Rescuers and volunteers were active on Friday September 15 in the search for thousands of people missing in Derna after the floods which devastated the coastal city in eastern Libya.
Speaking of a “catastrophic” situation, the UN Office for Humanitarian Coordination (OCHA) has launched an initial appeal for funds for more than $71 million (more than 66 million euros) to immediately help the some 250,000 people most affected by flooding from Storm Daniel. After the destruction of many roads, "the municipality [of Derna] urges the authorities to establish a maritime corridor for emergency assistance and evacuations," OCHA said, estimating the number of people at 884,000 directly affected by the disaster.
The surge of water, during the night from Sunday to Monday, broke two dams upstream, causing a violent flood of the wadi which crosses the city and waves several meters high comparable to a tsunami, according to witnesses. According to an AFP photographer on site, the city center of Derna now resembles land flattened by a steamroller. Trees were uprooted, buildings and bridges destroyed. The damage is considerable and the authorities fear a very heavy human toll in the city, which had 100,000 inhabitants before the disaster. Government ministers in eastern Libya put forward different tolls, but those exceeding 2,600 deaths.
Residents say hundreds of bodies still lie under tons of mud and rubble. “The water was loaded with mud, trees, pieces of iron… The waves traveled for kilometers before invading the city center and carrying away or burying everything that was in their path,” declared to AFP Abdelaziz Bousmya, 29, who lives in the Chiha district, spared from the floods. “I lost friends, loved ones. They were either buried under the mud or carried by the waves towards the sea,” he adds, his voice choked with emotion.
Fear of epidemics
According to him, the authorities did not take the necessary measures to protect themselves from the disaster, simply ordering residents to stay at home in anticipation of storm Daniel, which hit Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece before reaching Libya on Sunday.
Since then, dozens of bodies have been discovered every day and sometimes buried in mass graves. Many people were swept into the sea, which washed up dozens of corpses, raising fears of epidemics linked to their decomposition, according to health authorities. The number of body bags distributed in the city illustrates the extent of the tragedy. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) alone reported having provided 6,000.
On Wednesday, OCHA boss Martin Griffiths released $10 million from an emergency fund for victims, saying the UN had deployed "a strong team on the ground to support and finance the response international”. For its part, the World Food Program (WFP) announced that it had started providing food aid to more than 5,000 families displaced by the floods, specifying that thousands more in Derna are “without food or shelter”. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and many countries in the Middle East and North Africa have promised to send aid. Foreign rescue teams are already at work, searching for possible survivors.
Most of the deaths in Derna “could have been avoided,” said Petteri Taalas, head of the World Meteorological Organization, which depends on the UN, on Thursday. Years of conflict in Libya have “largely destroyed the weather observation network,” as have the computer systems, he said in Geneva. The country has been plunged into chaos since the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with two rival governments: one based in the capital, Tripoli (west), and recognized by the UN; the other in the eastern region, affected by flooding.