Toddler Rescued From Algerian Quake Ruins
Toddler Rescued From Algerian Quake Ruins
May. 24, 2003
CORSO, Algeria (AP) _ A wide-eyed Algerian toddler was tenderly lifted from the ruins of her family's home Friday, two days after a devastating earthquake killed more than 1,600 people _ a tiny survivor found by rescuers who heard her plaintive cries.
Two-year-old Emilie Kaidi stayed alive beneath the shattered concrete of her collapsed ground-floor bedroom, sheltered by a door that fell across a television set.
A Spanish volunteer, wedged in a tiny hole in the rubble, handed the black-haired little girl dressed in a red shirt up to other rescuers. She did not have any visible injuries.
``It warmed our hearts and gave us hope,'' said Amirouche Istanbule, a 38-year-old house painter who witnessed the rescue.
Emilie's parents also survived the Wednesday evening earthquake that destroyed their hometown, Corso, east of the capital Algiers.
However, her sister, 4-year-old Lisa, died in the ruins of the four-story building where the family lived, another witness said.
Emilie ``was traumatized but intact,'' said Amar Boutihe, 46, a project manager with a construction firm who lives across the street. ``When she came out, everybody had smiles on their faces.''
But ``the mood really changed an hour later when they brought out her sister,'' who was dead, Boutihe said.
Despite the dramatic rescue, workers said they were losing hope for finding more people alive after the 6.8-magnitude quake that killed more than 1,600 people and injured 7,207. The death toll was expected to rise, the Interior Ministry said.
Rescuers have stopped listening for voices, and instead were being guided by the scent of decaying bodies, said Saa Sayah, a captain in Algeria's civil protection unit.
``There is not much hope here,'' he said in front of a collapsed four-story building in Boumerdes. ``We have already pulled up four bodies, but we can't get further inside.''
Emilie's cries, and precision work by rescuers, saved her.
Rescuers asked for total silence as they inserted an ultrasound device into the wreckage to precisely locate her. A half-hour later, Emilie was raised from the rubble.
``When they brought her out, she was covered in dust and a Spanish rescue worker immediately put his hand over her eyes to block out the light,'' Istanbule, the painter, said.
Villagers suffering from rising shortages of food, drinkable water and electricity accused the government on Friday of a weak response. Heavy machinery needed to dig survivors and bodies from the rubble was nonexistent in many areas, townspeople said.
Some villagers said the lack of outside help inflated the death toll. Left to their own devices, townspeople struggled in vain to move huge slabs of cement with their bare hands or shovels, their dying loved ones just yards away.
``We have only our hands and hammers,'' said Ismail Lizir, 42, also of Corso.
``Nobody has visited us, not even to establish a death count,'' said Yoscef Manel, 34, who does odd jobs. ``Helicopters flew overhead and the interior minister drove through, but it's noise for nothing.''
However, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said in Algiers that heavy machinery could not be used as long as their was hope of finding survivors.
The prime minister announced $7,000 in aid for each victim and housing.
The government struggled to respond, moving dozens of ambulances, 3,000 police and security agents and electrical workers into the quake zone. The army brought in tents, ambulances and engineering equipment. Water trucks made the rounds to stricken villages.
Germany promised a field hospital, Sweden and Switzerland sent sniffer dogs, Russia dispatched rescue experts. Turkey pitched in with a search team, tents and medicine.
The country declared a three-day mourning period Friday.
President Bush called Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the official APS news agency reported, saying Bush assured Bouteflika of ``the support and friendship of the United States.''
The region of Boumerdes, 30 miles east of Algiers, was the hardest hit. The Interior Ministry reported at least 955 people died there, APS said.
In Corso, where the quake flattened bakeries and food ran low, a pharmacist dumped stocks of medicines onto the pavement where volunteers distributed them.
``We are giving them away to those who need them,'' said Malek Fadalia. ``You can't make people pay at a time like this. People are dying.''
Many spent the nights outdoors, fearful of aftershocks that could topple buildings. Police were on heightened alert to stop thieves from looting abandoned homes.
Victims' bodies were wrapped in blankets and plastic bags at morgues. Townspeople searching for missing relatives covered their faces against the stench of decay as they moved from body to body in search of loved ones.
At El-Alia cemetery in Algiers, hundreds of men carried open wooden boxes containing bodies wrapped in blankets for burial in a newly cleared field. People flocked to boards plastered with photographs of the dead to identify loved ones.
The quake hit about 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, with its epicenter east of Algiers. It was the North African nation's deadliest since a pair of temblors west of the capital killed up to 5,000 in October 1980, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The temblor also ruptured underwater cables, seriously disrupting international communications with countries as far away as Asia, France Telecom said.
The Algerian government has been battling Islamic insurgents for more than a decade and, with elections due next year, support for Bouteflika could slide amid criticism over quake relief efforts.
Muslim fundamentalists have traditionally excelled in helping the needy. To oversee rescue efforts, Bouteflika canceled plans to join a summit of world leaders in France next week, the state news agency reported.
Many Algerians have complained about the wobbly state of buildings and a housing shortage in a country rich in oil and natural gas.
In Corso, 14 identical apartment houses that townspeople said were built by the same construction company in the mid-1980s collapsed while older buildings withstood the quake. Many people were crushed while trying to run down stairwells to safety.