11-year-old found alive in quake rubble

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The Independent Online

An 11-year-old girl was discovered alive after lying buried under rubble for three days following Algeria's earthquake on Wednesday.

Rescuers hailed her survival under a partially collapsed building as "nothing short of miraculous" and were last night racing to remove her to safety as aftershocks continued to rock Boumerdes, near the capital Algiers.

Two search-and-rescue teams from the UK, along with an Italian group, were involved in the effort to reach the young girl, who was well enough to tell them she was called Sabrina.

A spokeswoman for Rapid UK, one of the teams involved in the rescue, said Sabrina was located after sensitive equipment picked up traces of her breath.

"It's amazing to find such a young girl still alive after this amount of time, we're doing all we can to reach her safely but the conditions are terrible," said Cerina Henshaw, speaking from the charity's Devon headquarters. "There are aftershocks which could threaten the rest of the building at any minute, but there must be a really good chance of getting Sabrina out, otherwise we would not be risking so much."

But Sabrina's discovery was one of the few glimmers of hope in the tragedy. The official death toll from the earthquake, which measured 6.8 on the Richter scale, yesterday reached 1,875. The number could rise further as bodies are pulled from the rubble. At least 8,081 people were injured.

Facing shortages of food, medicine and blankets and often forced to dig by hand in search of survivors, some have blamed the high death toll on a lack of outside help and mechanical diggers. Others directed their anger against builders, accusing the government of turning a blind eye to substandard construction and blaming corruption.

"Our building is still standing because it was built by an honest man," said Lies Boumeridja, an egg and poultry vendor. Pointing to a ruined neighbouring building, he added: "That house over there used to be filled with lovely people, but it was built by villains."

Salah Aouras, who camped out with his six children near what was left of his home, said: "We don't know if the buildings are OK. We need experts to come and tell us if we can go [inside]. We're still feeling the aftershocks and can't take the risk."

The Prime Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, who announced 700,000 dinars (£4,900) in aid for each victim and housing for the homeless, vowed to prosecute contractors "if malpractice in construction is proven".

There was widespread discontent about the aid efforts. Crowds threw stones at the President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, on his visit to Boumerdes yesterday, and at the Interior Minister, Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni, who visited Bordj Menaiel on Friday.

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