Death toll in Algerian floods soars to at least 447

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Associated Press WriterALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- The death toll in floods that inundated the Algerian capital and several other cities climbed to 447 on Monday, with an unknown number of people still missing, the interior minister said.

The torrential downpour on Saturday left at least 4,000 families homeless, Interior Minister Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni told state-run radio.

Anger mounted as rescue workers continued to unearth victims from the mud and the ruins of collapsed buildings. Monday's newspapers accused authorities of responding late to the disaster.

Zerhouni said 447 people died and 300 people were injured in the 36-hour storm. The dead included 407 victims in the hilly capital, Algiers, where buildings collapsed from pounding rain and sliding mud that inundated streets.

The working class neighborhood of Bab el-Oued was among the areas hit hardest.

Makeshift morgues were set up in the capital Sunday as rescuers pulled bodies from collapsed buildings.

The government, after meeting in emergency session, announced it would offer housing and financial assistance to those hardest hit by the devastating rainstorm.

In a departure from its usual go-it-alone stance, Algerian authorities called for international help in dealing with the disaster and France and Morocco were among the first nations to respond.

Algeria has consistently shunned help in fighting an Islamic insurgency that has left more than 100,000 people dead over the past 10 years.

Algerian dailies issued vehement criticism of authorities, particularly President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

"Divorce has been definitively consummated between the governors ... and (the) people," commented the daily El Watan.

"The floods laid bare the absence of political courage," wrote Le Matin, adding that "the men leading us don't even know how to react to a weather bulletin."

The flood followed a drought, with water rationed since mid-October. A weather alert was issued for the coming days, with more rain expected.

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