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Outraged Algerians Blame Shoddy Construction for Earthquake Death Toll - 2003-05-24

Shock and grief are giving way to outrage in Algeria as the death toll from Wednesday night's powerful earthquake continues to rise. It now approaches 1,800 with more than 7,600 injured. The high toll is being blamed in part on corruption in the building industry.

Although rescue teams continue their search through the rubble of flattened buildings, they say hope is fading fast of finding any more survivors. Several hundred international experts, mainly from Europe, continue to arrive in the most devastated areas, east of the capital, Algiers.

Algerians are now facing the twin traumas of bereavement and homelessness following Wednesday's 6.8 magnitude quake.

Survivors and opposition politicians are condemning the government's emergency response as woefully inadequate. They also blame rampant corruption and shoddy construction for the massive death toll and destruction.

Another reason for the high toll was that the earthquake struck just as many people were having dinner or had settled in front of their television sets to watch a major European soccer match.

Algeria's prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia, has promised to prosecute contractors if building malpractice is proven. He announced that each quake victim would receive $7,000 in state aid.

The Algerian Red Crescent says it is trying to provide food and shelter for more than 10,000 left homeless. Hundreds of people are still officially listed as missing.

Authorities say they are working to restore damaged telecommunication lines, power and water. They also say they are trying to prevent the outbreak of disease as bodies trapped in the debris deteriorate in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.