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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The 2003 Boumerdès earthquake occurred on May 21, 2003 in northern Algeria.[1][2] The epicentre of the earthquake was located at the town of Thénia[3][4] in Boumerdès Province, approximately 60 km east of the capital Algiers.[3] The quake was the strongest to hit Algeria in more than twenty years[5][6] since 1980, when a magnitude 7.3 earthquake resulted in 3,500 deaths.[7]



The northern Algeria is situated at the boundary between the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate, thus creating a zone of compression. This zone of compression manifests itself by several thrust and faults.[8] Due to this location between two tectonic plates, many earthquakes occurred in the region.[9] The mechanism of the earthquake on May 21 corresponds to a northeast-striking thrust fault named Zemmouri fault which was identified for the first time after this earthquake.[8] According to the United States Geological Survey,

The earthquake occurred in the boundary region between the Eurasian plate and the African plate. Along this section of the plate boundary, the African plate is moving northwestward against the Eurasian plate with a velocity of about 6 mm per year. The relative plate motions create a compressional tectonic environment, in which earthquakes occur by thrust-faulting and strike-slip faulting. Analysis of seismic waves generated by this earthquake shows that it occurred as the result of thrust-faulting.[10]

Damages and casualties

Approximately 2,266 people killed and 10,261 injured in the earthquake. More than 1,243 buildings completely or partially destroyed and nearly 150,000 people became homeless. Infrastructure was damaged in Algiers, Boumerdès, Réghaïa and Thénia. A tsunami was generated by the quake which damaged boats off the coast of the Balearic Islands.[10] East of the capital Algiers was affected most[9] and the Boumerdès Province was the hardest-hit region.[1] According to officials, in Algiers only roughly 400 people were killed.[9] In the Boumerdès Province, several cities were heavily damaged including Thénia, Zemmouri and Boumerdès,[1] which were the worst affected cities.[11] Many buildings built in the early twentieth century during the colonial rule suffered heavy damage in the Belcourt, Bab-El-Qued and El-Casbah areas in Algiers Province.[11]

Map of the affected area

According to the Algerian Ministry of Housing, in the Algiers Province only approximately 554 schools suffered light damage, nearly 330 schools received moderate damage and 11 were heavily damaged or completely destroyed.[12] The University of Boumerdès was severely damaged and many buildings collapsed. The University of Science and Technology located in Bab Ezzouar, which has the largest university campus in Algeria, was also damaged.[11]

A water treatment plant in Boudouaou, which provides more than 12% of the treated water to the Boumerdès and Algiers, suffered light damage to the clarifiers and clear water storage tanks. The water pipeline from the Keddara Dam to the water treatment plant was broken at a concrete junction structure at the dam and at the treatment plant. The main power plant in Cap Djenet suffered minor to moderate damage. A high voltage switch yard located near Réghaïa had heavy damage.[13]

Societé Nationale des Transports Ferrovaires, Algeria's state-owned railway company, suffered track damage near the town of Thénia. Some tracks were also blocked by debris of destroyed buildings. Eighteen bridges in the affected region had minor to moderate damage. Cracks developed in some roads and highways. The port of Algiers, which at that time handled approximately 40% of the national cargo traffic, suffered light to moderate damage due to soil liquefaction and settlement caused by the earthquake. Port operations was reportedly reduced by 30% immediately after the quake. The minor ports in Zemmouri and Dellys received little damage.[13] The airport control tower and terminal were moderately damaged.[14]

The earthquake had significant effect on local communication. An 8,000 switch central office in the El Harrach area of Algiers completely destroyed and another 20,000 switch office was heavily damaged.[13] Central offices in Boumerdes, Zemmouri and Tidjelabine were damaged.[15] Submarine telecommunication cables also suffered damage.[10] Two underwater fiber optic cables between Algeria and Spain received heavy damage due to undersea landslide caused by the quake.[14]

Relief efforts

Many nations sent rescue teams to help in the search for earthquake survivors.[4] International teams of relief workers went to the spot and became involved in rescuing people still trapped under rubble. International relief agencies engaged in supplies like shelter, food and water to the people who became homeless due to the quake.[5] Sniffer dogs sent to Algeria to find survivors trapped under rubble.[16] The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement co-ordinated the relief efforts. Medical and rescue teams were dispatched from European countries. The Red Cross of the People's Republic of China donated $50,000.[17] Trucks were called into service to remove dead bodies from Algiers and surrounding towns and villages.[9] Army units were deployed to assist the relief effort.[4] Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia announced an aid of $7,000 for each victim. The government dispatched several ambulances, police personnel and electrical workers into the affected area. Tents, ambulances and engineering equipment were brought by the army. Water trucks were dispatched to the quake affected villages.[18]


Response from other countries

  •  Canada: Canada pledged approximately $150,000 for search and rescue works to find survivors.[17]
  •  Egypt: Egypt sent a team of physicians and medicines to Algeria.[19]
  •  Germany: Germany sent 25 rescue workers to the affected region.[17]
  •  Morocco: Morocco sent a medical team along with medicines to Algeria.[19]
  •  Pakistan: Pakistan sent relief goods for the earthquake victims. A special flight containing 2,500 blankets, 200 tents and 31 cartons of medicines was dispatched to Algeria.[20]
  •  People's Republic of China: The People's Republic of China dispatched a team of rescue workers from the China International Search and Rescue (CISAR), PRC's main organization for international earthquake rescue work, to Algeria to search for survivors.[21]
  •  Russia: Physicians and rescue workers were dispatched from Moscow.[17]
  •  Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia sent aircraft carrying 102 tons of foodstuffs and tents.[19]
  •  South Africa: South Africa sent recovery teams to Algeria.[17]
  •  Sweden: Sweden sent sniffer dogs to Algeria.[18]
  •  Switzerland: Switzerland sent sniffer dogs to search survivors.[18] A 90-member recovery team was dispatched to the Boumerdès area.[22]
  •  United Kingdom: United Kingdom sent nearly 100 rescue workers.[17]
  •  United States: US President George W. Bush assured Bouteflika of "the support and friendship of the United States".[18]

Public anger

There was anger among the survivors over the fact that the local authorities did not provide them with temporary shelters.[5] Government officials virtually did not take part in the relief efforts, but Islamic charities tried to provide quick assistance. The inability of the state to effectively respond to the disaster led to widespread criticism.[23] The effects of the earthquake became worse because the construction industry in Algeria did not apply rigorous safety standards of earthquake engineering to build earthquake-proof buildings[24] and several buildings lacked the architecture to withstand earthquakes.[4] New housing blocks constructed by the government and by individual builders were destroyed by the quake,[25][26] but private building from the French period withstood the earthquake.[25] This was another cause of public anger.[4][5] Some people claimed that officials saved money by using below-standard material in construction projects. Many angry protesters threw debris when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Minister of State for the Interior and Local Authorities, Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni, tried to visit some affected regions.[4] A crowd kicked and stoned the car of Bouteflika when he visited Boumerdès shouting "pouvoir assassin".[25] Prime Minister Ouyahia expressed the view of possibility of corruption in the construction sector.[4] A commission of inquiry was set up by the government to investigate the faulty construction of several buildings which collapsed in the quake.[23]

See also



  • Edwards, Curtis L. (2004), Zemmouri, Algeria: Mw 6.8 Earthquake Of May 21, 2003, ASCE Publications, ISBN 0784407460  
  • Oliveira, Carlos Sousa; Roca, Antoni; Xavier, Goula (2006), Assessing and Managing Earthquake Risk, Springer, ISBN 1402018274  
  • Keeping Schools Safe in Earthquakes, OECD Publishing, 2004, ISBN 9264016694  
  • Dean, Lucy, The Middle East and North Africa 2004 (50th ed.), Europa Publications, ISBN 1857431847  
  • Freedom House (2004), Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0742537757  
  • Oxford Business Group, Emerging Algeria 2006, Oxford Business Group, ISBN 1902339436  
  • Evans, Martin; Phillips, John (2008), Algeria: Anger of the Dispossessed, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300108818  
  • Elsheshtawy, Yasser (2004), Planning Middle Eastern cities, Routledge, ISBN 0415304008  


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