AT LEAST six people have died after a magnitude 5.5 earthquake hit south-east of the Algerian capital, shaking buildings and sending panicked families rushing into the streets of Algiers to escape.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake had struck nine miles south-east of Algiers and its epicentre was recorded at a relatively shallow depth of 6.2 miles.

There were no reports of major damage, according to Algerian state television.

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But four people died trying to jump from windows or escape their buildings in panic and another two died of heart attacks, a health official said.

Many Algerians still have strong memories of 2003 when Algeria's strongest earthquake in years - measuring 6.7 - struck the capital and surrounding areas, killing at least 2,000 people and injuring hundreds and crumbling buildings in nearby towns and villages.