Hundreds of people are dead after the strongest earthquake to shake Algeria in decades struck Wednesday night, Algerian government reports said.
The quake was followed by hundreds of strong aftershocks that continued into Thursday as search and rescue efforts continued and hospitals were overrun with injured people.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was a magnitude 6.8, with an epicenter near Phenia, some 40 miles east of Algiers. This intial temblor was followed by at least three powerful aftershocks, measured at 5.7, 5.2 and 5.5 on the Richter scale, and about a dozen others with magnitudes between 4 and 5.
The towns of Rouiba, 20 miles east of Algiers, was also hard hit, with nearly every building reduced to rubble.
Damage was also reported in the town of Ain Taya and in Algiers itself, where more than 50 buildings were destroyed.
A hospital in the town of Baghlia was badly damaged.
In Boumerdes, the worst-hit province, doctors were treating the injured in open air clinics because hospitals were either overcrowded or damaged.
In a prepared statement, Butch Kinerney, spokesperson for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), termed the earthquake a shallow one capable of causing "significant damage and injuries."
By Thursday morning, Algerian government reports said more than 800 people were dead, and thousands more were injured.
The tremor was felt as far away as Spain.
At a press conference, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia called the disaster "a tragic moment.
"It's a misfortune that hits the whole of Algeria," he said.
In 1980, 2,500 people were killed in a magnitude 7.1 quake in the same region. According to the USGS, this is the largest quake since then.
In November 2001, more than 700 people were killed in flooding in Algeria.
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