At least 11,300 people have died and 10,100 are missing in the town of Derna alone, in eastern Libya, ravaged almost a week ago by unprecedented floods, according to a report published on Saturday September 16 by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), citing the Libyan Red Crescent.
The floods have also caused at least 170 deaths in other places in eastern Libya, the UN body also said in a situation update on Saturday evening. “These numbers are expected to rise as search and rescue teams work around the clock,” OCHA warned.
Storm Daniel, which hit Derna, a town of 100,000 inhabitants, on the night of Sunday to Monday, caused the rupture of two dams upstream, causing a tsunami-like flood along the wadi that crosses the city. She took everything in her path.
The Minister of Health of the administration of eastern Libya, Othman Abdeljalil, reported on Saturday evening a death toll of 3,252. In a press release published earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the bodies of 3,958 people had been found and identified, and that “more than 9,000 people” were still missing.
Children poisoned by polluted water
“The humanitarian situation remains particularly grim in Derna,” said OCHA, according to which the town lacks drinking water. At least 55 children have been poisoned after drinking polluted water, according to the organization.
Every day, dozens of bodies are pulled out from under the rubble of neighborhoods devastated by the waves or found in the open sea. According to testimonies from residents, most of the victims were buried under the mud or swept towards the Mediterranean.
Maltese rescuers, who are supporting the Libyans in sea searches, said they discovered hundreds of bodies in a bay, without specifying the exact location, according to the Times of Malta. “There were probably 400, but it’s hard to say,” Maltese team leader Natalino Bezzina told the newspaper, saying access to the bay was difficult due to strong winds. He added that his team was, however, able to help recover dozens of bodies.
A Libyan rescue team on a zodiac claims to have seen "perhaps 600 bodies" at sea off the Om-al-Briket region, about twenty kilometers east of Derna, according to a video on social networks, without specifying whether these were the bodies found by the Maltese.
Other Libyan and foreign rescue teams say they are finding bodies every day, but searches are made difficult by the tons of mud that has covered part of the city. Most of the time, rescuers are forced to clear the ground using shovels to search for bodies in devastated buildings.
Difficult identification of bodies
The work of rescue workers and search teams is also hampered by the political chaos that has prevailed in the country since the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with two rival governments, one in Tripoli (west), recognized by the UN, and the other in the East.
The authorities indicated that they had also begun the complicated process of identifying and listing the bodies, several hundred of which had been hastily buried in the first days.
Othman Abdeljalil further denied reports of a possible evacuation of the city, saying that only “certain areas” could be “isolated” to facilitate relief efforts. He added that his services in coordination with the WHO would “intensify efforts in the field of social and psychological assistance.”
Water samples are taken and analyzed every day to avoid possible contamination, he insisted, calling on city residents to no longer use groundwater.
Faced with the disaster, international mobilization remains strong. The ballet of aid planes continues at Benina airport in Benghazi, the large eastern city, where rescue and assistance teams from international organizations and several countries continue to arrive.