Six dead as quake stirs panic in Algiers

ALGIERS - Six people were killed and hundreds injured as panic gripped areas of the Algerian capital when an earthquake of 5.6 magnitude struck offshore early Friday, an emergency official said.

The crisis team member, revising an earlier casualty toll, said that four people had died after jumping off their balconies and two others of cardiac arrest.

The casualties were inside Algiers, in Boumerdes to the west and Blida, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of the capital.

They had been roused from their sleep by the tremor.

The official in the team set up by the health ministry told AFP that 420 people were injured, almost of whom were sent home after receiving first aid. Around 20 were kept in hospital.

Civil defence official Colonel Farouk Ashur said earlier that many residents in Algiers and Boumerdes, to the east, rushed out into the streets, fearing their buildings might collapse.

But there was no significant damage caused by the quake, which hit at 5:11 am (0411 GMT), Ashur said.

The epicentre was 19 kilometres (11 miles) off the coast of the western district of Bologhine, said the Algerian centre for research in astrophysics and geophysics, CRAAG.

It also reported five lower magnitude aftershocks.

"This earthquake is part the normal seismic activity of Algeria, which sits on two major plates. Algeria records 100 earthquakes a month but most are not felt," CRAAG researcher Kamel Lamali told AFP.

A 2003 earthquake that hit Boumerdes killed nearly 3,000 people.