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Rescue Workers Leave Algeria After Last Week's Earthquake - 2003-05-26

International rescue workers are leaving earthquake-torn Algeria as hope is lost of finding more survivors. More than 2,200 people died and 9,000 were injured in the powerful quake, and the numbers continue to rise.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says relief organizations must focus on aiding Algeria's earthquake survivors by providing basic supplies, like clean water and food.

Spokesman Christopher Black told VOA from the Algerian capital, Algiers, that a lack of clean water could contribute to an outbreak of disease across the ravaged coastal towns worst affected by last week's earthquake.

He said the Algerian Red Crescent together with Red Cross workers from France are setting up a unit to provide fresh water to the homeless.

"What is of more concern is for people who have lost their homes, who are afraid of going back into their homes [that they] have access to clean water and have access to sanitation," he said. "The French emergency response unit when it gets fully operational has the capacity to provide clean water for up to 40,000 people in the town of Boumerdes."

Mr. Black says Red Cross teams from France and Spain are also launching basic health care services for quake victims. He adds that relief supplies and medicines sent from British and German Red Cross committees have arrived in Algeria and will soon be distributed.

Mr. Black said the Red Cross and Red Crescent are also providing psychological support to Algerians traumatized by the massive loss of life and property.

"In some places entire building complexes have collapsed, just sandwiched one on top of each other," he exlained. "People are still in large groups going through the wreckage, through the debris in the hope of looking for that miracle."

One such miracle occurred late Sunday when rescue workers pulled out a 13-year-old girl who had been trapped under rubble in the town of Bordj Manaiel, 80 kilometers east of Algiers. The girl, who sold cakes in the town to help her poverty-stricken family, told rescuers that she survived by eating the cakes, which she had carefully divided up into daily rations.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika says he has launched an inquiry to determine why dozens of new apartment buildings collapsed so easily when the quake hit.