World Rushes to Help Algerian Quake Victims

ALGIERS, Algeria, May 23, 2003 (ENS) - At least 1,600 people are dead and some 7,200 are injured after a severe earthquake struck Algeria's northern region, close to the capital Algiers, late Wednesday night. Hundreds of other people are reportedly trapped under collapsed buildings or remain unaccounted for, say the Algerian Interior Ministry and United Nations officials.

Estimates of the quake's severity range from a magnitude 5.4 according to the Swiss Seismological Service and 6.7 according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It is the strongest quake to hit the country since 1980.

The epicenter of the earthquake was 75 kilometers (45 miles) east of Algiers, near the town of Thenia. The number of casualties is expected to rise as more bodies are found under the many buildings that have collapsed in Algiers, Bourmedes and Rouiba, which were most affected by the quake.

Power and water supply and distribution was disrupted in Boumerdes, a town close to Algiers, where most of the search and rescue efforts are concentrated. The Hospital in Phenia, eight kilometers (five miles) from Boumerdes, has been damaged and can presently provide first aid and triage only, officials say.


Search and rescue workers bring a victim out from under the rubble of a collapsed building. (Photo courtesy Algerie Presse Service)
At least 10 aftershocks occurring after the initial quake have hampered rescue efforts in these heavily populated areas.

The Algerian Civil Protection Directorate, leading the allocation of working areas for the search and rescue teams, says priority needs are water and sanitation.

The situation at the airport is currently described by the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Reception Centre Team as calm, with trucks available on standby to transport incoming search and rescue teams to the quake site. Initial bottlenecks, seen earlier in the day, appear to be easing, UN officials say, and more relief flights are due overnight.

Emergency Response Units (ERU) staffed by trained volunteers from the French Red Cross will arrive in Algeria on Saturday. The Water and Sanitation ERU includes a trucking and distribution component, as well as a supply unit that can treat up to 600,000 liters of water per day, providing drinking water for up to 40,000 people.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched a preliminary appeal for two million Swiss francs (US$ 1.5 million) to assist the earthquake victims.

Aid is pouring in from around the world, and aid workers are struggling to organize it and get relief quickly to the victims. Caroline Dunn, the IFRC's coordinator of Emergency Response Units says, “Given the volume of aid pouring into Algeria, it is crucial that logistics capacity is boosted.”

The government of Japan has dispatched the Japan Disaster Relief SAR team comprising 50 persons and two dogs.

France has dispatched six flights including a team of civil defence experts that includes 10 persons and 10 dogs, a field hospital with 25 specialists and two telecommunications specialists. Additionally, a delegation from Eaux de Marseille, consisting of eight people and five trucks of water and purification equipment has arrived in Algeria.

Denmark, through its Embassy in Algiers, has donated €40,000 to the Algerian authorities for earthquake relief operations. The Belgian Red Cross is airlifting airlift emergency health kits to Algiers today.

Spain has dispatched search and rescue specialists as well as emergency equipment. Poland, Norway, Austria, Iceland, Italy and the European Union have all offered aid.

The Russian Federation's EMERCOM 70 person Search and Rescue team has arrived.

China's international search and rescue team, with 30 members and specially trained dogs, arrived in Algeria today.

The United States, through its Permanent Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, is establishing an Embassy commitment of US$50,000 to go to the Algerian Red Crescent for immediate relief needs of quake victims. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is airlifting 6,000 blankets and 600 tents for people left homeless by the earthquake. In addition, USAID is sending three medical supply kits each of which benefits 10,000 people for three months.