Frantic search for girl as Algeria quake toll tops 2,000

RESCUE workers fought against time yesterday to try to find an 11-year-old girl believed to be alive in the rubble of a building as Algeria’s earthquake death toll passed 2,000, with nearly 9,000 hurt.

The hunt for Sabrina in the belly of a collapsed building in a small coastal town east of the capital nearly four days after the quake offered a glimmer of hope to what is otherwise no longer a search for the living but for the dead.

"We are still hoping to find people alive, time matters and it's 86 hours after the quake so we just don't know," said Nathalie Molimard, a leader of one a team of French rescue workers sent to Algeria from Paris.

Official figures showed 2,047 people were killed and 8,626 hurt in Wednesday night's quake, which measured 6.7 on the Richter scale.

Well over 1,000 people were missing and 15,000 homeless in the North African country's most devastating tremor in more than 20 years.

Anger has grown as survivors accused the government of turning a blind eye to shoddy construction in a quake-prone area and of standing by as the death toll mounted.

Some vented fury at President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Saturday when he visited badly hit areas. Angry crowds chanted "assassin" at the him and kicked and threw stones at his car.

Newspaper Le Matin splashed across its front page: "Resign Mr Bouteflika," saying no president since Algeria's 1962 independence from France had been so insulted by its citizens.

Thousands of residents of the Mediterranean provinces of Algiers and Boumerdes spent a fourth night in the open, having lost their homes or being too scared to return to those still standing.

Sunday rescue teams worked with sniffer dogs or crawled into rubble with torches, cameras and sensitive microphones to probe for life in the remains of apartment blocks.

State radio reported four tremors Saturday evening in northern Algeria. The strongest measured 4.1 on the Richer scale in the city of Thenia the center of last Wednesday's quake but no damage was reported.

Italian rescue workers were busy probing a building in the coastal town of Boudouaou where Sabrina may still be alive.

"The parents said they heard a voice last night. We heard nothing with our equipment yesterday morning, but two sniffer dogs twice picked up signs of life," said Piero Moscardini, a rescue team leader from Rome.

A dust-covered rescue worker shouted "Quiet!" at crowds pushing to watch a team gingerly push sophisticated sound equipment into the depths of the rubble.

"She was a happy, intelligent, good girl," said her father, Mohamed Ben Mouman, 39, standing nearby. "I have not eaten, I have not slept since the earthquake," he said.

Hundreds of bodies have been found, but few people have been rescued alive. Friday two toddlers and a man were and on Saturday evening another man was reported to have been saved.

Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia has already begun preparing the nation of 32 million inhabitants for the end of the search.

"There comes a stage when the government says 'that's it', but we are not at that stage yet," said Molimard, standing outside the remains of a three-story building.

The government said it was trying to prevent an outbreak of disease as bodies rotted under debris in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). A lack of clean running water and sanitary facilities added to the health hazard.

Efforts continued to restore damaged phone lines, power and water supplies and officials said they would destroy buildings cracked beyond repair.

Much of Algiers was in darkness for several hours on Saturday night in a power outage as the authorities tried to get electricity supplies running after the quake and subsequent tremors.

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