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The Boumerdes, Algeria, Earthquake of May 21, 2003

On May 21, 2003, an earthquake of moment magnitude Mw=6.8 shook northern Algeria, about 50 km east of the capital city of Algiers. The affected area is heavily developed and urban. Approximately 2,300 people were killed and more than 11,000 injured. Total economic loss was estimated at US$5 billion. Damage was reported in an area about 100 km long and 50 km wide, centered on the city of Boumerdes. About 182,000 housing units were damaged, of which more than 19,000 collapsed or were rendered uninhabitable. The earthquake left upwards of 120,000 people homeless. Most of the construction in the damaged areas was built in the last 30 years. This earthquake highlights the particular vulnerabilities of both large cities and megacities in the developing world.

This 56-page report was prepared by the EERI reconnaissance team, which was joined by many Algerian scientists, engineers, and researchers. In addition, there is an eight-page insert containing six color high-resolution satellite images of the affected area taken at three different times: a year prior to the earthquake, immediately post-earthquake, and a month after the quake. The insert summarizes the remote-sensing team’s findings.

The report covers the political and social context that affected the quality of construction and the challenges of reconstruction, as well as social and economic impacts, geosciences, buildings and industrial facilities, lifeline systems, and response and recovery. It also includes recommendations to reduce urban vulnerability and improve construction practices and emergency response. Technical editor: Fouad Bendimerad.


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