Sun, May 25, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Girl found alive as death toll climbs

AP , CORSO, ALGERIA

Emilie Kaidi, 2, emerges in the hands of a Spanish volunteer rescue worker from Firemen Without Borders from the rubble of her home in Corso, east of Algiers, on Friday, two days after a major earthquake struck the region.

PHOTO: AP

Dust-covered but alive, a two-year-old girl was pulled from the rubble of Algeria's earthquake, a moment of joy for rescuers as the stench of decaying bodies drowned out hopes of finding many others alive.

With the death toll topping 1,600 and expected to climb, grief turned to anger with widespread complaints that rescue efforts were inadequate and that shoddy construction compounded the devastation of Wednesday evening's quake, when buildings collapsed like card-houses.

After two days of counting bodies and fewer and fewer survivors, the remarkable rescue Friday of wide-eyed toddler Emilie Kaidi from the rubble of her family's home in Corso, in the quake zone east of the capital Algiers, offered momentary hope.

Guided by her plaintive cries and an ultrasound locating device inserted into the wreckage, rescuers found her beneath the shattered concrete of her collapsed ground-floor bedroom, protected by a door that had fallen across a television set.

Rescuers asked for total silence as they sought to precisely locate her, witnesses said. A half-hour later, 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 appeared unharmed.

"It warmed our hearts and gave us hope," said Amirouche Istanbule, a 38-year-old decorator. "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."

Emilie's parents also survived. But her sister, 4-year-old Lisa, died in the ruins of the four-story building, said another witness, Amar Boutihe, a 46-year-old construction manager who lives across the street.

"The mood really changed an hour later when they brought out her sister," he said.

By Friday, the death toll from the 6.8-magnitude quake east of Algiers had risen to more than 1,600 and was expected climb, the North African country's Interior Ministry said. Another 7,207 were injured.

Even as nations around the world rushed in medical teams, sniffer dogs and other aid, villagers in destroyed towns like Corso struggled with shortages of food, water, electricity, medicine and blankets.

"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."

Many directed their anger against builders and the government, saying it had turned a blind eye to substandard construction. Others faulted corruption.

"Our building is still standing because it was built by an honest man," said Lies Boumeridja, an egg and poultry vendor in Bourmerdes, a nearby town where the official news agency APS said 955 people died.

"That house over there used to be filled with lovely people, but it was built by villains," Boumeridja said, pointing to a ruined neighboring building.

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