REGHAIA, Algeria – Algerian and French rescuers with search dogs searched Wednesday for survivors in a collapsed apartment block after a powerful aftershock rocked quake-hit Algeria (search) and injured more than 200 people.
The 15-story building in Reghaia (search), in the quake zone, had been the pride of the town before it was damaged and evacuated following the May 21 temblor that, according to the government's count, killed at least 2,218 people and injured 9,497 others.
On Tuesday evening, three of the building's displaced residents were inside recovering belongings when it collapsed in a magnitude-5.8 aftershock that sowed fresh panic in the quake-ravaged zone east of the capital Algiers, said an Interior Ministry official, Mohamed Kendil.
French rescue workers, who rushed to Algeria after last week's quake, used dogs on Wednesday to sniff through the slabs of concrete and mangled metal piled into a mound as tall as a three-story house.
Workers with sturdy circular saws labored to bore a hole in the wreckage to squeeze a dog into a cavity where there were thought to be air spaces that could hold survivors.
The dogs at one point barked twice, but their handlers weren't certain that meant they had located survivors.
"We aren't sure because there are so many people on the site that it distracts the dogs," said Bruno Hardy, a member of the French team. "We don't have much hope."
After last week's powerful magnitude-6.8 temblor, the pillars of the building — built in the late 1950s and known in Reghaia as "the 15th" — were cracked, and its ground- and first-floor walls blown out.
"A few days later, some young people started to venture back in. They were told it was dangerous but they wanted to get their belongings and clothes," said Omar Cheiri, 48, a mechanic who lived in a building opposite rendered uninhabitable by the initial quake.
Then Tuesday's quake knocked the rest down.
The 15-story building "was a symbol of the town. You could see it from 5 to 6 kilometers [3 to 4 miles] away. I would drive back and see it and know I was almost home. We all cried when it was destroyed," he said.
Townspeople said they believed several people were inside when it collapsed, though they won't sure exactly how many.
Algerian rescue workers used a crane to lift away cement slabs and three bulldozers to shove rubble away from the ruin. French rescuers complained that the cleanup was too heavy-handed.
"We would have done things very differently. They are going too fast in removing rubble and cement slabs and risk missing a survivor," said Michel Rabaud, another member of the French civil protection team.
Algerian state radio said at least three people were presumed dead in the aftershock, although it was not immediately clear if they were the same ones Kendil said were in the collapsed building.
Kendil, the interior ministry secretary general, said on Algerian television that more than 200 people were injured in the aftershock, the strongest of several since last week's temblor. But many of those who sought treatment in hospitals were suffering from shock and panic attacks, rather than physical injuries.
The aftershock also collapsed at least one home in the quake-ravaged town of Boumerdes (search), state radio said. In one Algiers hotel, panicked visitors ran out of the building.
Another aftershock Wednesday morning again sent people running into streets in Algiers, though there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Aftershocks have panicked survivors left homeless and struggling with shortages of aid.
During Tuesday's aftershock, "everybody started running, screaming women were crying," said Elkacem Khedda, 23. "We relived the same nightmare."