/ 4 October 2008

Algerian protestors demand aid as flood toll rises

About 5 000 people demonstrated in the flood-riven southern Algerian town of Ghardaia on Friday to demand urgent aid after flash floods killed 31 residents, witnesses said.

Police broke up the rally before the crowd could reach the municipal headquarters, said witnesses. The protestors demanded basic food supplies and equipment to help search for survivors or bodies buried in the rubble.

The death toll in Ghardaia climbed to 31 on Friday, as aid workers battled to help hundreds of homeless and the army was deployed to prevent looting, state radio said.

Fifty people were injured and about 1 000 were homeless around the historic town, a United Nations World Heritage site at the entrance to the Algerian
desert in the M’Zab Valley, state radio said.

The Algerian government on Friday unblocked aid for victims, said the minister for national solidarity, Djamel Ould Abbas, as cited by APS agency.

Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia gave ”strict orders for victims of the natural catastrophe to be taken care of by releasing” unrestricted funds, the minister said.

Hundreds of volunteers, Red Crescent workers and Muslim scouts were helping the homeless. The radio said the water level was eight metres high in some parts of the town, some 600km south of the capital Algiers.

Basic aid and food was arriving from nearby towns in trucks, the radio said.

Tunisian President Zine El Abindine Ben Ali on Tuesday sent his ”sincere condolences” and ”strong feelings of sympathy and compassion” to Algerian counterpart Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said the floods are the worst for a century, while locals on Friday reported sweeping damage.

”Hundreds of houses have been destroyed but thousands have been damaged and are uninhabitable in the area,” said a resident of El-Gaba, a village near Ghardaia, speaking in front of his ravaged home.

”It’s unimaginable, a real catastrophe,” added another, confirming that four people had died in the vicinity and three others were missing.

Another shocked resident said all the homes damaged by the waters would effectively have to be rebuilt.

Gas and electricity supplies have been partially revived, but there was an acute shortage of basic goods and medicines — most of which had been damaged due to the flooding.

The interior Ministry sent tents, generators and 400 tonnes of first aid to the region. But residents of Ghardaia, who took to the streets on Friday, said they needed emergency supplies more quickly.

The government previously said 13 people had been killed in the floods.

Several parts of Algeria were lashed by heavy rain including Djelfa — midway between Ghardaia and Algiers — where two people died.

Flooding in the Algiers region in 2001 killed more than 800 people and caused considerable damage. – AFP