Devastating floods provoke popular fury

02 November 2001

Embittered residents of the capital Algiers shouted anti-government slogans and booed President Bouteflika as he toured the Bab el-Ouad district on 12 November, two days after the working-class neighbourhood was devastated by flash floods. Official figures put the total death toll at 750, with the majority of fatalities in the capital, but independent reports expect the final count to exceed 1,000. As many as 24,000 people are understood to have been made homeless.

Torrential rain lashed coastal parts of the country on 9-10 November, triggering flash floods and mudslides that tore through the hilly capital, flattening houses, burying cars and knocking out power supplies in some of the city's most densely populated areas. In places the mud was packed two metres high.

The local authorities, which have been accused of disregarding safe building practices, are being held partially responsible for the magnitude of the catastrophe. Residents say the official response was sluggish and disorganised, and that a lack of heavy equipment, spades and sniffer dogs hampered rescue efforts. Reports, denied by officials, that the government sealed the entrances to drains in the early 1990s to prevent their use by Islamic militants, have heightened public anger.

The already chronic housing shortage in Algiers is expected to make the rehousing of flood victims even more difficult for the government, with scores of people unaffected by the damage likely to apply for emergency accommodation. Offers of practical and financial support have been pouring in from across the international community, with Algeria's former colonial power France among the first to send rescue teams and supplies.

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