|ALGIERS - The heaviest snow in more than 50 years fell on the Algerian capital on Thursday, paralysing traffic, killing 13 people and isolating nearly a third of the North African country's provinces, authorities said.|
Several areas in the north, in particular the Mediterranean oil port city of Skikda, were cut off after two days of snow, strong winds and rain. In the last 24 hours 13 people have died and 47 others have been injured, mostly in road accidents.
Authorities warned bad weather would continue for several days. Algiers Meteorological Services said it was the heaviest snowfall since 1950.
"Please stay at home unless you absolutely must go out and avoid driving if possible," a state radio presenter said on behalf of the civil defence authority.
There were no reports that oil and gas production in Algeria, a member of the OPEC oil exporting cartel, was hit. However, electricity and gas distributor Sonelgaz said it was struggling to meet demand and had to carry out power cuts.
More than 100 roads, including several motorways, were shut. Most public administration offices and schools were closed and power and water supplies were cut off as temperatures dropped to freezing in dozens of towns.
Newspapers criticised the government for failing to respond quickly to the poor weather. Authorities have now mobilised truck-tankers of hot water, salt and sand to clear roads.
Civil defence workers were out in force to help thousands of stranded motorists. Algiers international airport suffered traffic delays and several regional airports were shut.
"Many stranded people were forced to sleep overnight in buses we provided for them," said a fire brigade official.
In Bouira, some 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Algiers, 1,000 passengers were forced to spend the last two nights in schools.
Public transport in large parts of northern Algeria, where the majority of the 33 million population live, was halted.
Less severe snowfall was reported in neighbouring northwest Tunisia.
Story by Paul de Bendern
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE