Child's rescue lifts despair after Algerian quake

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A baby girl was pulled alive from the rubble of her grandmother's apartment block by a French rescue team yesterday, a lucky survivor of Algeria's deadly earthquake.

Wearing nothing but a torn orange T-shirt, little Yousra Hamenniche was lifted gingerly out of a five-storey building which telescoped into one mangled storey when the country's worst quake in more than 20 years hit on Wednesday evening.

"She's coming, she's coming," shouted a rescue worker from Marseille, France, as the two-and-a-half-year-old girl was lifted through a hole drilled in the roof. She was quickly given oxygen, wrapped in a silver and gold foil blanket and, with her left hand resting in a medic's hand, she was whisked quickly away to the nearest medical centre.

The death toll across the country's Mediterranean coast rose to almost 1,500 yesterday, with the Boumerdes province where Yousra was rescued the hardest hit, and hopes for hundreds still trapped in buildings were fading.

"I thank everyone, you've done an incredible job," the toddler's father, Samir Hamenniche, told the rescue workers who had flown in from France to help local civil protection teams struggling to do the job with bare hands and sledgehammers.

"We told you we would get her out," replied a happy-looking rescue worker as Mr Hamenniche clapped him on his back.

Mr Hamenniche said the rescue team had told him the night before that they could get his daughter, but only if they amputated her left arm. "They were going to cut her arm. I said don't, so they worked all night and did it. They saved her," he said. Yousra's left arm was bandaged when she was brought out.

The female members of the family were having a dinner party - neighbours said to prepare for a wedding - when the earthquake struck this city some 30 miles east of the capital, Algiers. "It was my mother-in-law's house. They were having a family party," Mr Hamenniche said.

Six members of the family were missing, including Mr Hamenniche's wife, sister and daughter-in-law. The civil protection official Abdou Rafik said the family members, all believed to be in the collapsed living room, were probably dead.

Several corpses were pulled out from underneath the rubble of the apartment block in the middle-class Iben Khaldoun district of Boumerdes while rescue workers worked to save the girl.

"We've entered the third day, it's already 30 degrees Celsius in the day, chances are fading fast to find anyone else alive. She was very, very lucky," Mr Rafik said as an ambulance pulled away to take another body to the morgue.

The province of Boumerdes has been the hardest hit, with more than 800 deaths, more than 1,200 missing and 10,000 homeless.

The destroyed apartment blocks were abuzz with teams of rescue workers and sniffer dogs from several European countries desperately trying to find people who were still alive. But the rest of the city was a ghost town.