DERNA, Libya, Sept 18, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - A week after a tsunami-sized flash
flood devastated the Libyan coastal city of Derna, sweeping thousands to
their deaths, the international aid effort to help the grieving survivors
slowly gathered pace Sunday.
Search-and-rescue teams wearing face masks and protective suits kept up the
grim search for bodies or any survivors in the mud-caked wasteland of smashed
buildings, crushed cars and uprooted trees.
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, UN agencies warn.
"In this city, every single family has been affected," said one resident,
Another, Mohamed al-Zawi, 25, recounted how he saw "a large mountain of water
bringing with it cars, people, belongings... and pouring everything out into
Amid the chaos, the true death toll remained unknown, with untold numbers
swept into the sea.
The health minister of the eastern administration, Othman Abdeljalil, has
said 3,283 people were confirmed dead in Derna after another 31 bodies were
recovered on Sunday.
Libyan officials and humanitarian organisations have warned, however, that
the final toll could be much higher with thousands still missing.
Members of a Greek rescue team travelling from Benghazi to Derna were
involved in a traffic accident on Sunday, authorities in both countries said.
Abdeljalil told reporters in Derna four rescue team members died and 15 were
injured, seven seriously, after their coach was in collision with a car in
which three Libyan family members died.
In Athens, a statement Greek National Defence General Staff statement said
there had been an accident but spoke only of "minor injuries" among the team
members, and that the circumstances "have yet to be clarified".
UN Libya envoy Abdoulaye Bathily visited Derna on Saturday, and posted on X,
formerly Twitter, that the devastation was "truly heart-wrenching. I saw
firsthand the magnitude of the disaster. This crisis is beyond Libya's
capacity to manage, it goes beyond politics and borders."
Emergency response teams and aid have been deployed from France, Greece,
Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates,
with more on the way from other nations.
- Political division -
The aid effort has been hampered by the political division of Libya, which
plunged into years of war and chaos after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising led to
the overthrow and killing of veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The oil-rich North African country now remains split between two rival
governments -- a UN-backed administration in the capital Tripoli, and one
based in the disaster-hit east.
The International Organization for Migration's Libya chief Tauhid Pasha
posted on X that the aim now was to channel all authorities "to work
together, in coordination".
Britain's foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said "the big challenge with
Libya" was that it lacks a fully functioning government to coordinate with.
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 as the
Mediterranean region has sweltered under an unusually hot summer, and on the
legacy of Libya's war that 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.
- Bodies on the beach -
A week after the disaster, bodies are still washing up on the shore, along
with vast amounts of debris.
Hamza Al-Khafifi, 45, a soldier from Benghazi, described to AFP finding the
unclothed bodies of "old, young, women, men and children".
"Bodies were stuck between rocks," he said.
A Libyan rescue team in an inflatable boat reported seeing "perhaps 600
bodies" at sea off the Om-al-Briket region, about 20 kilometres (12 miles)
east of Derna, according to a video shared on social networks.
The United Nations has launched an aid appeal for more than $71 million.
The aid being sent to Libya includes water, food, tents, blankets, hygiene
kits, medicines and emergency surgical supplies as well as heavy machinery to
help clear the debris, and more body bags.
The scale of the devastation in Derna and surrounding areas has prompted
shows of solidarity across divided Libya, as volunteers in Tripoli have
collected aid for the flood victims.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that unexploded
landmines and other ordnance from the war may have been washed into areas
previously free of weapon contamination.