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Quake kills 370 in Egypt

First came the roar. Then the quake. Then death.

One of the strongest earthquakes to hit Egypt in modern times struck the country Monday, hitting Cairo hardest. More than 370 people were killed and more than 3,300 injured.

The quake hit at the height of midday traffic. It caused bloody traffic pile-ups and gridlocked the city's already crowded roads for much of the afternoon.

The earthquake shook the earth for 20 seconds and measured 5.9 on the Richter scale. It was felt 270 miles away in Jerusalem.

Panic, not the quake, killed many of the victims. Many people died when they threw themselves from windows or were caught in stampedes as high-rises shimmied. One hundred of the victims were schoolchildren in the Cairo area who died as their classmates trampled them rushing from swaying schools.

"The kids threw me down the stairs as they were going out of the classrooms," said Amira Ahmed, 13. "I didn't feel the quake. But I heard a janitor yell for everybody to run away. I got trampled and choked."

She had bruises on her neck where she had been stepped on.

Thousands rushed into the streets and into nearby mosques as clouds of dust and the dull boom of stretching joists and tumbling concrete rose up over the city.

"We all started saying "Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!' (God is great!)," said a man who ran from the 10th floor of the undamaged state television building. "We were saying farewell to the world, we all knew we were dying. I was saying to God, "Take me fast.'

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The quake was centered about 20 miles southwest of Cairo, a few miles from the Pyramids and the Sphinx on the Giza Plateau.

The quake spared Aswan High Dam, which holds back 310-mile-long Lake Nasser, the world's largest artificial lake. Significant damage to the dam would have sent a 110-billion-gallon wall of water flooding the Nile Valley, home to the vast majority of Egypt's 58-million residents.

None of Cairo's fabled tourist attractions, including the Pyramids and the Sphinx, were damaged. The downtown skyline in this city of 14-million is intact, although tall buildings and lamp posts teetered during the earthquake.

Most of the 163 buildings reported destroyed or badly damaged in Cairo are in low-income neighborhoods where poor construction often leads to collapses of often-illegal structures put up by people desperate for homes.

There also was bad damage in the well-to-do suburb of Heliopolis, where a 14-story apartment building was reduced to a pile of stones and twisted steel. Neighbors pulled 15 survivors from the wreckage, and bulldozers worked through the night to search for victims.

Some workers began tearing through the rubble with their hands after they heard voices under the remains of about 75 apartments. Almost 15 hours after the quake, a bulldozer operator spotted a woman waving. He eventually hauled her _ clinging tearfully to her 2-year-old son _ alive from the rubble.

Ilham el-Sayed and her son, Ihab, were in good condition but too stunned to talk. Their lives were apparently saved because their 13th-floor room was cushioned by the rubble beneath them.

Another woman, Samia Ragab Khalil, looked up at rescuers from a hole in what had been an apartment, holding her lifeless son.

Rescue efforts continued into the night. The Cairo area was the worst-hit, with 127 deaths reported in the capital and 128 in Giza, on its southern outskirts. Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, the country's second-largest city, reported scattered injuries but no deaths or fallen buildings.

In Butnaya Darb Azayee, a warren of tiny streets and clay brick buildings abutting each other, a group of men illuminated by a floodlight were frantically lifting stones from a huge hole six hours after the quake. Using only their hands, they were after Mona, 24, a woman who had been inside the three-story building at the time.

They said they had little hope of finding her alive. Like many other residents, they said they feared an aftershock and planned to sleep outside tonight.

President Hosni Mubarak, who was on an official visit to China, cut short his trip to return home.

Prime Minister Atif Sedky, who was holding a cabinet meeting when the quake struck at 3:12 p.m. (9:12 a.m. EDT), toured the ruins of a 15-story apartment building that collapsed in Heliopolis.

"We were all under our desks out here," said Richard Underwood, a retired American military officer who lives in Heliopolis. "I've never felt one like that before."

Most injuries occurred "when people rushed out of buildings and some jumped from houses to escape the earthquake," said physician Samir Nada, manager of Cairo's Ahmed Maher Teaching Hospital.

Outside Nada's hospital Monday night, a large group of men waited to donate blood. When told that they were needed more at another hospital, about 25 of them jumped into a pick-up truck to make the frantic trip through Cairo's crowded streets.

Radio and television broadcast appeals for doctors and medical personnel to report to work. Public schools were ordered closed for inspections for the next three days, officials said.

By late evening, Cairo was a city of divided images. Some neighborhoods were blotted with rescue efforts, heartbroken families and traffic jams. State-run Cairo Radio made repeated appeals _ mostly unheeded _ for people to stay off the streets so emergency vehicles could get through.

But in other areas, life quickly returned to normal as many Cairo residents went out for evening shopping strolls and sidewalk chats. Often, they had to pick their way over fallen plaster and masonry shaken loose from buildings.

_ Information from AP, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post was used in this report.

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