updated 10/2/2008 10:54:35 AM ET 2008-10-02T14:54:35

Torrential rains in the Algerian Sahara created flash floods that killed 29 people and injured dozens more in a historic oasis region, officials in the North African nation said Thursday.

Hundreds of people had to be rescued by helicopter and up to 600 houses were destroyed in the rains Tuesday and Wednesday around the medieval town of Ghardaia, the official APS news agency said. Security services and the military were helping in the rescue operations.

"Following these floods, we can sadly declare that 29 people have died," Ali Belkhir, the country's head of public health, told national radio.

An Interior Ministry statement later confirmed the death toll of 29 and said another person was still missing. While Belkhir said 84 people had been injured, the Interior Ministry lowered that number to 48, including three people in serious condition in the hospital.

Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni had initially reported 13 dead after flying over the zone. Radio reports said there could be more damage in outlying oasis towns.

Phone lines to the area were disrupted Thursday, and local officials could not be reached for comment.

Ghardaia, 370 miles south of Algiers, is the seat of the Mozabite people, who practice a form of dissident Islam unique to their region. It lies on the edges of the Sahara Desert in a long and narrow valley known as the M'zab, which is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

The storms this week caused a local wadi — or seasonal river that remains dry for most of the year — to rise at some points by 26 feet within hours, APS said.

In neighboring Morocco, the MAP news agency reported that two people drowned and several were missing in similar floods near the southern city of Marrakech.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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