Earthquake kills more than 450 near Algerian capital

ALGIERS, Algeria -- A powerful earthquake shook the Algerian capital region Wednesday night, killing at least 459 people and injuring more than 2,400, according to the Interior Ministry said. Rescuers feared families were buried in the rubble as apartment building walls collapsed, trees crushed cars and weeping survivors walked amid debris.

"This is a misfortune that has struck the Algerian people," Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said on television.

The Interior Ministry was quoted by the official Algerian news agency as saying the death toll of 459 could rise as rescuers find more people buried in rubble.

The quake was deadliest in towns east of the capital of Algiers, particularly in Rouiba, where more than 100 people died, state-run radio reported. About 15 people were killed in Algiers.

The prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia said whole families may be buried under collapsed homes and so the initial death toll may be "unfortunately partial."

The quake hit about 7:45 p.m., cutting electricity in some neighborhoods of Algiers and causing panic throughout the city. It was followed by at least three aftershocks.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors quakes around the world, said the temblor had a preliminary magnitude of 6.7. Algerian officials put it much lower at 5.2. The cause of the discrepancy wasn't immediately clear.

Earlier state radio reported that about 250 were killed, saying that most of the deaths occurred near the epicenter, located near Thenia, about 40 miles east of Algiers.

The radio report said 104 people were killed in the town of Rouiba, 20 miles east of Algiers. In addition, 50 died in Boumerdes, about six miles from the epicenter; 42 were killed in the town of Ain Taya, about 20 miles from the capital.

Two more deaths were counted in the Berber capital of Tizi Ouzou, and one more in Bouira, both further east.

Details of the increased number of deaths as reported by the Interior Ministry over the official APS news agency were not immediately available.

"I saw the earth tremble. I saw people jump from the window of the hotel," Icham Mouiss of Boumerdes told French television station LCI.

Interior Minister Nouredine Yazid Zerhouni traveled to Thenia and Boumerdes. A call for blood donors was issued and medical personnel were asked to pitch in and help.

A hospital in the town of Baghlia was seriously damaged by the quake and numerous roofs in towns around the epicenter caved in, the Interior Ministry said.

In Algiers, cracks appeared in a number of buildings. LCI air footage of a stairwell in one building that had crumbled to the ground. People thronged the streets, afraid to enter their buildings.

Butch Kinerney, spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey, called it a shallow earthquake that was capable of causing "significant damage and injuries."

He said that in 1980, hundreds of people were killed in a magnitude 7.7 quake in the same region. "This is the largest since then," Kinerney said.

By Hassane Meftahi ~ The Associated Press

ALGIERS, Algeria -- A powerful earthquake shook the Algerian capital region Wednesday night, killing at least 459 people and injuring more than 2,400, according to the Interior Ministry said. Rescuers feared families were buried in the rubble as apartment building walls collapsed, trees crushed cars and weeping survivors walked amid debris.

"This is a misfortune that has struck the Algerian people," Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said on television.

The Interior Ministry was quoted by the official Algerian news agency as saying the death toll of 459 could rise as rescuers find more people buried in rubble.

The quake was deadliest in towns east of the capital of Algiers, particularly in Rouiba, where more than 100 people died, state-run radio reported. About 15 people were killed in Algiers.

The prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia said whole families may be buried under collapsed homes and so the initial death toll may be "unfortunately partial."

The quake hit about 7:45 p.m., cutting electricity in some neighborhoods of Algiers and causing panic throughout the city. It was followed by at least three aftershocks.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors quakes around the world, said the temblor had a preliminary magnitude of 6.7. Algerian officials put it much lower at 5.2. The cause of the discrepancy wasn't immediately clear.

Earlier state radio reported that about 250 were killed, saying that most of the deaths occurred near the epicenter, located near Thenia, about 40 miles east of Algiers.

The radio report said 104 people were killed in the town of Rouiba, 20 miles east of Algiers. In addition, 50 died in Boumerdes, about six miles from the epicenter; 42 were killed in the town of Ain Taya, about 20 miles from the capital.

Two more deaths were counted in the Berber capital of Tizi Ouzou, and one more in Bouira, both further east.

Details of the increased number of deaths as reported by the Interior Ministry over the official APS news agency were not immediately available.

"I saw the earth tremble. I saw people jump from the window of the hotel," Icham Mouiss of Boumerdes told French television station LCI.

Interior Minister Nouredine Yazid Zerhouni traveled to Thenia and Boumerdes. A call for blood donors was issued and medical personnel were asked to pitch in and help.

A hospital in the town of Baghlia was seriously damaged by the quake and numerous roofs in towns around the epicenter caved in, the Interior Ministry said.

In Algiers, cracks appeared in a number of buildings. LCI air footage of a stairwell in one building that had crumbled to the ground. People thronged the streets, afraid to enter their buildings.

Butch Kinerney, spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey, called it a shallow earthquake that was capable of causing "significant damage and injuries."

He said that in 1980, hundreds of people were killed in a magnitude 7.7 quake in the same region. "This is the largest since then," Kinerney said.

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