Libya Floods: Death Toll Could Climb To 20,000 Says Mayor

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Marwan Alfaituri via ReutersA view shows the damaged areas, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya, Sept. 13, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. Marwan Alfaituri via Reuters.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA & BBC NEWS. A week after a tsunami-sized flash flood  devastated the Libyan coastal city of Derna, sweeping thousands to their deaths, international aid gathered pace as search-and-rescue efforts continued.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said approximately 11,300 people had died.

The Libyan Red Crescent, which OCHA cited for the data, distanced itself from the report as the health minister of the eastern administration, Othman Abdeljalil, has said 3,252 people were confirmed dead in Derna.

As search and rescue teams continue to hunt for bodies trapped underneath the mud and rubble of their homes in the Libyan coastal city of Derna, observers say the warlord Khalifa Haftar and his sons are using the disaster response as a way to exert control rather than ensure vital humanitarian relief reaches civilians.

The mayor of Derna, Abdel-Moneim al-Ghaithi, said the tally could climb to 20,000 given the number of neighbourhoods that were washed out, with thousands still missin after two dams burst during the powerful storm last week.

The flooding swept away entire families in Derna on Sunday night and exposed vulnerabilities in the oil-rich country that has been mired in conflict since a 2011 uprising that toppled long-ruling dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Traumatised residents, 30,000 of whom are now homeless in Derna alone, badly need clean water, food, shelter and basic supplies amid a growing risk of cholera, diarrhoea, dehydration and malnutrition, United Nations agencies have warned.

“Thank God for giving us patience. I am sitting here trying to clean and verify who is missing. I am trying to understand the situation. I did not leave,” Hamad Awad, a Derna resident, told Al Jazeera.

“In this city, every single family has been affected,” one resident, Mohammad al-Dawali, told the AFP news agency.

The massive flood came as Libya was lashed on September 10 by the hurricane-strength Storm Daniel, which had earlier brought deadly floods to Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria.

The rapidly rising waters burst two upstream river dams in Derna, sending a late-night tidal wave crashing through the centre of the city of 100,000, sweeping entire residential blocks into the Mediterranean.

UN experts have blamed the high death toll on climatic factors such as the Mediterranean region sweltering under an unusually hot summer and on the legacy of Libya’s war, which has depleted its infrastructure, early warning systems and emergency response.

Questions are being asked about whether the disaster could not have been prevented, as cracks in the dams were first reported in 1998.

Marwan Alfaituri via ReutersA view shows the damaged areas, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya, Sept. 13, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. Marwan Alfaituri via Reuters.