Image: Flooded street
Residents of Ghardaia, Algeria, navigate a flooded street on Thursday.
updated 10/3/2008 11:03:34 AM ET 2008-10-03T15:03:34

Some 1,000 people protested in the desert town of Ghardaia on Friday to demand more support from authorities following deadly flash floods, local residents said.

Torrential rains caused rivers in this usually arid region bordering the Sahara desert to overflow on Wednesday and Thursday, destroying hundreds of houses in the historic town and a neighboring oasis.

National radio on Friday put the death toll at 31. The search for survivors continues.

Authorities have deployed the army to prevent looting and said they were distributing 400 tons of food, 1,000 tents and 200,000 blankets for survivors, the official APS news agency said.

But some residents said rescue operations were conducted too slowly, and a local journalist said roughly 1,000 protesters gathered in Ghardaia's center on Friday were demanding more aid and additional equipment to search for victims.

"The protest is beginning to get a bit violent," Jamel Kechmad told The Associated Press by telephone, as loudspeakers blared with midday prayers in the background.

He said speculation was rampant in the town that the death toll was much higher than officially reported.

There was no government comment on the protest Friday, which is the weekend in Algeria.

Ghardaia, with a population of 100,000, is a located in a long and narrow valley known as the M'zab about 370 miles south of the capital, Algiers. The M'zab is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site, and lies on the edge of the Sahara — the world's largest desert.

Thunderstorms can occasionally bring massive rains to the region, with engorged rivers then causing serious damage.

Residents said that during this week's rains, a local river rose by 26 feet, triggering the floods. Mud flowed chest-deep in some streets, national radio reported.

The region is the of power for the Mozabite people, who practice a unique form of dissident Islam known as the Ibadite rite. The area saw violent clashes this year between Ibadites, who usually belong to the Berber ethnic minority, and mainstream Sunni Muslims.

Both groups participated in Friday's protest, though they did not mingle, Kechmad said. Police officers and soldiers stood guard.

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