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Frantic Search Continues for Algerian Earthquake Survivors - 2003-05-23

The frantic search for survivors continues in northern Algeria after a powerful earthquake struck on Wednesday night leaving nearly 1,100 dead and injuring close to 7,000 others.

Many of panic stricken people slept in the streets and parks of Algeria's seaside capital for a second night fearing aftershocks and more destruction. Thousands have fled their homes, complaining of shoddy construction and concerned that more buildings could soon collapse.

Police have stepped up patrols around Algiers to prevent looting. Algerians are blaming rampant corruption for violations of building codes as part of the reason for the massive death toll and devastation.

Rescue teams, including international specialists from France, Germany, Switzerland and Russia are working in a frenzied hunt for survivors amid vast amounts of rubble from fallen buildings.

Algerian authorities say the teams face a difficult task. Bulldozers are forced to maneuver gingerly around the edges of buildings for fear of causing more damage. Algeria's 6.8 magnitude earthquake crumbled apartment houses, knocked down walls and flattened mosques.

Emergency squads, using sniffer dogs, are finding some people alive. But Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia says many people are still trapped. He expressed fear that the death toll will mount as more bodies are pulled from the debris.

Medical authorities say hospitals are overwhelmed with the number of injured, particularly in the worst hit areas of Bourmedes and Rouiba, some 25 to 50 kilometers east of Algiers.

Wednesday night's quake is the North African nation's deadliest since 1980 when a pair of temblors killed up to 5,000 people.