On this day in 1954, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake strikes Algeria, near Orleansville, killing 1,600 people. Another 5,000 people suffered serious injuries during the strong tremor and series of aftershocks that followed.
The Cheliff River Valley features some of the best farmland in North Africa. Orleansville, the center of the area, can trace its history back to ancient Roman days. About 32,000 people lived in the popular trade center in 1954. Since about 50 tremors are detected in the area each year, the residents were used to some degree of shaking, but they were not prepared for the massive quake that struck at 1:07 on the morning of September 9. For approximately 12 to 15 seconds, violent rumbling rocked the entire valley. Thirty construction workers who were sleeping in a partially completed building all died when the structure collapsed. The Cathedral of St. Peter was reduced to a pile of rubble topped with a steeple bell.
A stadium, a prison, a hospital and the army headquarters all collapsed during the earthquake. The earthquake was also felt outside the city. One nearby shepherd reported that a few of his sheep were actually swallowed by the earth. A rupture in the ground resulting from the quake ran 24 miles north to Tenes on the Mediterranean coast.
Ten thousand people were left homeless by the earthquake.