Quake aftershock rattles Algerians

Thursday, May 29, 2003

REGHAIA, Algeria -- Rescue workers squeezed a search dog Wednesday into the wreckage of an apartment block that collapsed in a powerful aftershock to last week's earthquake, searching the mangled metal and concrete slabs for any signs of survivors.

The tremor late Tuesday sent fresh panic through Algeria, injuring more than 200 people and rekindling memories of last week's devastating earthquake that flattened entire villages east of the capital, Algiers. At least 2,251 people were killed in the May 21 quake, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday, raising the death toll by 33 as more bodies were recovered from the ruins. Another 10,243 people were injured.

Algerian state radio said at least three people were killed in Tuesday's aftershock, while neighbors identified at least six people missing in the collapsed building -- including a 17-year-old boy and a 42-year-old French teacher.

Karim Tengour wept quietly Wednesday as he watched rescue workers with circular saws bore a hole in the rubble to squeeze a search dog into a cavity where there were thought to be airspaces that could sustain survivors. Two dogs had barked twice near the cavity, but their handlers weren't certain that meant they had located survivors.

"There are so many people on the site that it distracts the dogs," said Bruno Hardy, a French rescue worker. "We don't have much hope."

Tengour, 19, said his 17-year-old soccer buddy Nassim and five other people were inside the building trying to recover clothes and blankets when the magnitude-5.8 aftershock struck.

"Nassim was young and happy and a great soccer player," Tengour said tearfully. "We were at school together. We were always at each others homes, like brothers. May God protect us."

The 15-story building -- a source of local pride for being the tallest in Reghaia -- had been evacuated after last week's powerful magnitude-6.8 temblor blew out its ground- and first-floor walls and damaged its pillars.

A week after the quake, doctors and psychologists reported more trauma cases as shock replaced the initial frenzy of trying to dig survivors out of the rubble.

"People have been coming in unable to speak," said Samia Khettoussi, 25, a volunteer psychologist who was holding the hand of a shaking woman outside Reghaia's evacuated health center.

"For one week they thought they were safe, but since yesterday's aftershock, they're just petrified," Khettoussi said as doctors handed out tranquilizers and counseled shaken survivors.

Speaking quietly in the psychologist's tent, Ahmed Safi, 18, said he could not erase the memories of the bodies he had recovered from the wreckage of a collapsed 10-story building.

"I just keep walking in the streets," he said. "I'm so tired, but I'm afraid to sleep."

Watching rescuers search the rubble of the collapsed building Wednesday, Tengour said he had already lost 16 of his 35 classmates in last week's quake.

Among the missing in Tuesday's aftershock was Hassane Toukal, a 42-year-old French teacher who had gone up to his in-law's seventh floor apartment to recover belongings.

"All I want to do is find his body. God willing, he will go to heaven," said the father-in-law, Boudjid Said, 63, sitting on a pile of rubble, his face buried in his hands. Relatives held his tearful daughter tightly in their arms.

Mokrane Amara, 38, a neighbor, said Toukal had hesitated before entering the damaged building.

"He went up the first floor, took fright and came out," said Amara. "But then he returned and walked up to the seventh floor. That's when everything started to shake."

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