9 FEBRUARY 1867, Page 11


[FROM A CORRESPONDENT.1 WE left Algiers the day before the earthquake, to spend New Year's Day in the country, returning to sleep that one night at Blidah, a town about thirty miles distant, situated at the foot of the Lesser Atlas. A more delightful New Year's Day I have seldom passed. Our party, consisting of a lady and her two daughters, -my husband and self, were the guests of a French gentleman who has just acquired a large property in the neighbourhood. We -went by train to Blidah, engaged rooms at the hotel, and drove over the plain to our friend's property. It lies on the southern elope of the Sahel, a low range of hills thrown out like a line of .sentries in front of the lofty Atlas chain, guarding the sea coast, the beautiful crescent-shaped plain of the Metidja sweeping round between the two ranges. As we neared our destination, the road plunged into a forest of gigantic olives, laden with masses of the silver-tasselled African clematis and the red-berried sarsaparilla. A dejeuner in company with an Arab chief, awaited us, and -we hardly knew whether to satisfy our sharpened appetites or -feed our curious minds by conversing with this strange guest, who spoke excellent French and was a travelled and enlightened man. After breakfast came a visit to a wonderful old ruin, whose -mysterious origin is a constant problem to the antiquarians of Algiers, while the beauty of its site delighted us humbler lovers of the picturesque. Altogether it was a day full of interest. We -turned our backs on the spot with regretful hearts, and many a last look at the scene of loveliness ever outspread before it. The sun was sinking, a broad shadow crept slowly toward us over the plain, soft pink lights and delicate purple pencillings of shadow -defined the summits of the Atlas, whilst at their foot, far in the -distance, rose the white smoke of the smiling peaceful villages, whence so soon would rise the voice of terror and weeping. -" Beautiful Algeria," we exclaimed, "happy those whose homes -lie amid such scenes of loveliness I" Wild projects passed through -our minds during our star-lit drive to Blidah ; already half -dreaming of a possible future, we lay down to rest, to be rudely -wakened on the morrow.

At 7.15 on the morning of the 2nd I was roused from sleep by e sound as of some one beating the floor above and the walla on every side. It increased rapidly in violence, till the whole house -shook, and rocked, and seemed giving way beneath our feet. I 'saw the wall in the corner of the room split and open, and im- mediately afterwards masses of plaster fell from the ceiling and walls, bringing clouds of dust and a darkness as of night. I lay cowering in bed from some unaccountable impulse, which made -me fancy myself safer there, as I heard the crashing of the falling wood and plaster, and the awful sound of the walls being cracked and rent apart. An age of ever increasing horror seemed to pass (in reality, I believe, scarcely thirty seconds), till I heard my husband's voice calling me to fly. I rushed blindly to the door and out into the corridor, guided by the most piercing shrieks. In one instant we thought of our friends on the floor above, where the danger, of course, was so much greater. Thank God ! they soon stood in safety beside us. All the inmates of the hotel were running wildly about, some tearing down stairs out into the street. The women's screams and cries were what first made me feel

actually afraid, and caused me to realize that all these terrible sights and sounds meant danger to life and limb. The shock was so sudden, so wholly without preparation, that the mind was absorbed only in the consciousness of the Unknown, in the new and awful experience. So little, indeed, did any of us know what our peril was, that we remained in the house more than a quarter of an hour after the first shock, the landlord assuring us all was over. As we had literally nothing on but our night-dresses, we at length went back to our rooms and hastily gathered up some clothing, which we put on how and where we could, in the open passage, heedless of the people running to and fro, collecting their valu- ables. It was no time for conventionalities. Our friends on venturing up the tottering staircase found their rooms choked with plaster and rubbish, the walls separated from the shaking floor, which hardly seemed firm enough to bear their weight, the whole a complete scene of ruin, while on the pillow of one of them lay a large mass of wood, almost too heavy to lift. She had happily sprung from her bed instantaneously at the first alarm.

A fresh thongh slighter shock now drove us from the house, where we had already tarried foolishly long, and the cry was, "To the ' place I" Thither we rushed in the -pouring rain. It was already crowded with people from all parts of the town in the most pitiable condition. Some half dressed ; some crying bitterly ; some wringing their hands, lamenting the loss of their little all, their stock-in-trade ruined and shattered, their houses rent from top to bottom, in some cases level with the earth. Numbers of poor Jewesses sat crouching on the wet ground, holding their sobbing children, rocking themselves to and fro and moaning loudly, while above all rose ever and anon the wailing sound of the cavalry trumpets and the rolling of the drum, calling on the soldiers to quit their tottering barracks. A sick French lady, apparently dying, was carried out in her bed on to the "place." She lay white and motionless, while the most curious and least scrupulous crowded round her. The Arabs alone stalked about unmoved, shrugging their shoulders, and muttering, "It is destiny!"

As no more shocks occurred and the rain still continued, we at length took shelter under the colonnade of a one-storeyed house; but soon a low rumbling was heard, as of distant thunder, and every one precipitated themselves into the midst of the "place." It was a fearful scene. People came tearing down the neighbouring streets, women and children ran aimlessly hither and thither, shrieking wildly, men even uttering hoarse sounds of terror, while the ground heaved and trembled beneath our feet, and we gazed at the surrounding houses in expectant horror ; it seemed as if they must fall like a pack of cards. The shock, however, was slight, but still, dreading another, all now remained in the open "place," as their only chance of safety, and the drum beat announcing the Maire's command that every one should take refuge there and quit their houses, whither some of the boldest had returned to save their property. Another and severer shock followed in about half an hour. The young trees rocked and swayed, and the flag- staff near waved backwards and forwards. Several houses fell completely to the ground.

It was a time of awful expectation, rendered even more dread- ful by the low, terrified snatches of conversation on all sides. One man told of the earthquake at Blidah in 1825, when eight thou- sand perished and the whole town was destroyed. Another said, "We have not yet had the worst shock," while a third confi- dently affirmed that the great shock of all would be at half-past ten ; groundless prophecies, but still alarming enough to hearers nervous from the terror and excitement of the last three hours. And yet amid it all it was curious to notice how soon the mind grew accustomed to danger. How we calmly calculated whether we should be out of reach of the houses if they fell forwards into the "place," how we carefully chose our position so as to be clear of the piece of water in the centre in case of a sudden rush from the crowd ; how we finally procured chairs to rest our wearied frames, as, keeping closely together, our little band waited and watched for the worst. Overhead like a pall hung the leaden sky. Rain still fell heavily, as it had not ceased to do since midnight.

Rain, long wished for over the length and breadth of a thirsty land, come at last, like many an anxiously desired blessing, hand- in-hand with misfortune.

As nothing fresh occurred, we finally determined to make our way down to the railroad, so as to be ready for the 12.80 train, that from Algiers having arrived safely, and the line being declared uninjured. The guard afterwards told us he saw the rails some distance on in front heave up and down like an immense wave.

In fear and trembling we passed under the tottering walls of the houses on our path, not daring to run, lest we should create a panic among the poor terror-stricken beings in the "place." Arrived at the station, we sat in one of the carriages awaiting departure, and after experiencing one more slight shock, started for Algiers, which we reached in about a couple of hours, to find no damage suffered there, although considerable alarm. The hotel, our rooms, all looked as on that peaceful New Year's morning, not thirty-six hours ago, when we set off in high spirits, full of pleasant anticipations. The events of the day seemed a hideous dream. But it was a dream not to be lightly shaken off. Again and again, during the ensuing week, that mighty trembling made itself felt, happily only in a slight degree, and every night we lay down with all prepared for flight at our bedside, sometimes even sleeping half dressed, to be ready at the slightest warning. Almost every one in the hotel has since confessed to similar precautions. However, as at length all has grown quiet, and days have passed without any fresh alarm, our courage has crept back again, though a sudden noise or the rumbling of the heavy waggons on the quay still makes us start nervously, and recalls the never- to-be-forgotten sensations of the 2nd of January.

In other places the after shocks were more frequent, some forty or fifty having been counted, but no new damage of any consequence seems to have occurred. People are beginning to take heart, detach- ments of soldiers have been despatched to assist the colonists in re- building their houses, subscriptions raised to allay the unavoidable misery of many. Blidah, although rendered uninhabitable, was spared the greater disasters which befell Mouziiia, El Affroun, and two other villages, which appear to have been immediately over the centre of disturbance. They were literally levelled to the ground, and scarcely a family among their inhabitants but had some member killed or wounded beneath the ruins. Had the earthquake happened in the night the casualties must have been far greater, whereas most were able to rush from the falling houses, the larger proportion of sufferers being young children and infants. One little babe, however, was found uninjured in its cradle, part of the wall, falling across, having formed a kind of protecting arch over it. But other heartrending stories are told of a young woman whose infant was killed in her arms, she herself receiving only a severe blow on the chest ; of another poor creature who when extricated spoke of having heard her husband's voice crying for help, till a fresh shock silenced him for ever.

But enough of such sad scenes. The French, with that buoyancy of nature which is one of their most enviable qualities, have already taken fresh courage, and set to work to rebuild their houses. Will they, however, learn any lesson from this disaster? Will they see the insecurity of their present mode of building, and think of the future? At El Affroun one house alone remains standing amid the ruins which surround it. To what peculiarity of structure does it owe its immunity? It is built of beams of wood intersect- ing one another, the interstices filled with brickwork—much like.what we term " pargetting" (from the French word parquet), and which may be seen in old cottages and manor houses in England, and in most of the houses in the north-east of Switzerland. It has been universally remarked here that brick masonry has resisted the action of the earthquake better than atone. It has more elasticity, and where it is combined with the still more elastic substance wood the best material is presented. This system of construction is generally adopted in the countries exposed to repeated subterranean action, such as Asia Minor, Greece, the Archipelago. Bricks dried in the sun are often substi- tuted for baked bricks, as possessing even more elasticity. Of course the most patent fact of all is the folly of building high houses. Even where comparatively little damage has been done, that damage was in the higher storeys. A schoolboy knows that oscillation increases with the distance from the centre of move- ment, and every day we act on this principle when we avoid the last carriage of a long train, or carefully choose our berths at sea as near midships as possible. And yet here in Algiers, even at this moment, they go on completing the new streets of houses five and six storeys high. One shudders to think of the awful loss of life which must have ensued had the shocks of the 2nd been felt in full force here. Hitherto it is true that the centre of con- vulsion has always been near the mountains raised by that agency centuries ago. But there is no security that such will always be the case, or that Algiers is to be the privileged spot its inhabitants imagine. Of the frequency of volcanic action in the colony there can be no doubt. Within the last forty-eight years nine earthquakes have occurred, some repeated during many weeks. Their effects of course varied in violence in different places, according as these were situated with regard to the centre of disturbance, but all were attended with considerable loss of life and property in different parts. Would that people might heed the lesson of wisdom, and prepare Algeria to resist future assaults! Northern, wanderers like ourselves turn thankfully to their native shore, where all is peace and stability. Old England may be rough and blustering ; not from her the warm greeting of the balmy South ; her sun is pale, her breath chill; but at least her soil is firm and true, and her children may rest secure on her bosom, knowing that if all else fails them, there they will ever find a sure