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Death toll tops 1,000 in Algeria quake

ALGIERS, Algeria, May 22 (UPI) -- More than 1,000 people have died in a massive earthquake that struck northern Algeria Wednesday evening, Algerian television reported Thursday.

The death toll may rise further yet as emergency workers and citizens alike continue to move and sift through tons of rubble from destroyed homes and collapsed buildings. Film clips and photos Thursday captured torn and flattened structures, jammed hospitals and shock on survivors' faces.

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At a magnitude of 6.7, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the temblor is the worst experienced by Algeria since 1980, when about 3,000 died. The butting of two continental plates, the African and Eurasian pieces of Earth's crust, in northwest Africa make Algeria and the surrounding region geologically unstable.

Of the 1,092 reported dead by Algeria's interior ministry as of 6 p.m., 457 were in the capital Algiers, on the country's Mediterranean coast, and 624 in another coastal city, Boumerdes, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the east. Among other cities with casualties were the industrial city of Rouiba, also east of Algiers, with at least 100 dead. In Thenia, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) east of the capital, witnesses were quoted as saying people jumped from apartment windows in panic.

"I saw the earth tremble. I saw people jump from the window of the hotel," Boumerdes resident Icham Mouiss was reported as telling French television. Algeria is a former French colony, and France promised Thursday to send aid, including search teams and emergency equipment.

The epicenter of Wednesday's quake was about 70 kilometers, or 45 miles, east of Algiers, which rattled for several seconds with the powerful shift of continental plates below. It was felt as far away as Spain, across the eastern Mediterranean from Algeria.

A meeting of the Council of Ministers, chaired by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, met Thursday afternoon to discuss and adopt emergency measures. Bouteflika himself toured the area, including a hospital overwhelmed with treating victims while fielding queries from frantic relatives.

"Entire families are underneath (the rubble)," Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said.

Hospitals in the capital and hardest-hit cities were finding it almost impossible to cope, medical staff said. In the hardest hit province, Boumerdes, bodies were piled up outside hospitals and patients were treated in the open air. Authorities urged doctors and paramedics to go to hospitals to help and citizens to donate blood.

Many city residents have fled their homes for the safety of the open countryside, fearing aftershocks.

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