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Many Algerians Blame Government for High Death Toll in Earthquake - 2003-05-25

The death toll from Wednesday's powerful earthquake in northern Algeria stands at more than 2,000, and rescuers say there is little chance of finding anyone else alive.

Grief has given way to anger among Algerians who blame the government for hindering emergency rescue operations and claim the massive loss of life was caused by corrupt building practices. Algeria's newspapers report that many of the collapses took place in unstable areas which never should have been built on.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the focus is on the plight of the newly homeless, the risk of disease and the public anger over the heavy casualties.

Bodies trapped in the rubble of flattened buildings are quickly deteriorating in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, posing a health threat.

Some of the international experts who came to Algeria to search for and rescue quake victims are starting to head back home. As hopes fade of finding more survivors, their job is finished.

But an Italian team has continued to probe the rubble of one building, searching for an 11-year-old girl whose father insists is still alive.

Rescuers say the death toll is expected to rise as more and more bodies are pulled out of the debris. They say there is an immediate need to spray disinfectant in devastated areas lying east of Algiers to stem the spread of disease.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika tried Saturday to tour the worst affected area of Boumerdes, but angry crowds shouted insults and threw stones at his car and forced him to cut short the visit.

Algeria's Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia has promised to prosecute contractors if building malpractice is proven. He said tougher earthquake-proofing standards may be set. He also announced that each quake victim would receive $7,000 in state aid.

Meanwhile, aftershocks are continuing, raising fears that unstable buildings could collapse and cause more casualties.