Starving and homeless villagers, wearing masks against the stench of death from decomposing bodies buried beneath earthquake rubble, hijacked government food trucks and looted deserted stores, Algerian authorities said today.

Troops with shoot-on-sight orders patrolled the streets of Al Asnam today to prevent looting in the city, and officials said the whole "disaster zone" had been put under martial law.

They said one aftershock collapsed about 50 already-damaged houses in a village near the city, but there were no casualties since inhabitants had fled to refugee camps and the village was deserted.

Rescue workers reportedly found at least 1,400 more bodies, pushing the confirmed death toll over 3,000, a police spokesman said today. Forty-five people, many injured, have been pulled alive from the ruins, the government said.

Vie aftershocks struck yesterday as rescue workers raced against time digging in the ruins of the flattened city in the fading hope of finding any remaining survivors of Friday's quake, which killed an estimated 20,000 and injured more than 60,000, according to Algeria's Red Crescent, the Moslem Red Cross. Prime Minister Mohammed Abdelghani annouced that the number left homeless has reached 400,000.

The official radio announced 27 camps had been set up to house the homeless and said "energetic measures" were being taken to ensure orderly distribution of food and blankets.

Government officials admitted there had been "some difficulties" in distributing relief aid.