Flood deaths in Libya exceed 11,000 and thousands are missing

Flood deaths in Libya exceed 11,000 and thousands are missing

LONDON – The death toll from devastating floods in eastern Libya has exceeded 11,000, according to the Libyan Red Crescent, as rescuers work to understand the full scope of the disaster.

As of Saturday, the bodies of nearly 4,000 people had been recovered and identified, the World Health Organization said. More than 9,000 people are still missing, according to the World Health Organization, which is working with the Libyan Ministry of Health to track down the dead and missing.

“This is a disaster of epic proportions,” Dr. Ahmed Zouiten, the World Health Organization’s representative in Libya, said in a statement.

The Libyan Red Crescent said on Friday that at least 11,300 people had been killed while another 10,100 were reported missing. A Red Crescent official told ABC News that it is difficult to provide an accurate death toll.

Ahmed Al-Hathal, head of the Red Crescent’s aid department in the coastal city of Derna, said: “The waves wash up bodies on the beach every minute, on beaches up to 150 kilometers away.”

The Minister of Health in eastern Libya, Othman Abdel Jalil, said on Friday that the number of recorded deaths reached 3,166.

Mediterranean Storm Daniel is behind widespread flooding in the North African country, sweeping away entire neighborhoods over the weekend and sweeping bodies into the sea.

Derna was the most affected after two dams collapsed, destroying a quarter of the area. Libya’s public prosecutor announced late Friday that he had ordered an investigation into the dam collapse and whether the disaster could have been avoided through better maintenance.

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Derna was declared a disaster area, with electricity and communications cut off, according to local officials. The head of the parliament-backed government of eastern Libya, Osama Hamad, told reporters on Friday evening that the authorities will take precautionary measures that may include closing the city of Derna for fear of the spread of diseases.

An assessment team that visited Derna on Thursday said people were returning to what remained of their homes in a state of despair.

“What I saw there is… the situation is devastating… a lot of destruction and devastation, about 25% of the city was basically destroyed as a result of the floods,” said Talal Bernaz, acting Libya country director for the UN Office for Refugees. The International Medical Corps told ABC News.

“Whenever you see a search and rescue team, you will see families standing there with tears in their eyes asking for support and hoping they will find their loved one alive,” Burnaz said.

Burnaz said they were still pulling people out of the rubble on Thursday. He saw one rescue operation and heard about four others when he visited the last remaining government hospital in Derna. The survivors had been trapped under the rubble since the early hours of Monday morning.

Some help is to pass the only road to the devastated areas. Burnaz watched international search and rescue teams – from Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Spain – and led aid convoys coming from all over Libya.

“There were many local authorities – the army, police, scouts and the Libyan Red Cross – trying to recover the two bodies or find survivors under the rubble,” Burnaz said.

The World Health Organization said on Saturday that 29 metric tons of health supplies had arrived in Benghazi, Libya, from the WHO’s global logistics hub in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Supplies include medicines, trauma and emergency surgery supplies, medical equipment, as well as body bags.

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MSF sent an emergency team from Misrata to Derna that arrived on Thursday to assess needs in the wake of Storm Danielle, despite difficult conditions as the city was split into two parts between east and west due to flooding.

The group’s medical coordinator in Libya said the situation is chaotic with volunteers coming from everywhere in Libya to help, leaving a huge need for coordination.

“There are no more bodies in the streets, and no wounded that we can see in the hospital,” Manuel Carton, MSF’s medical coordinator in Libya, said on Friday. “It’s everyday health needs that are emerging again – chronic diseases. We can clearly identify the huge need for mental health support. Everyone is asking for it, from people on the streets to doctors who work in this field.” “They helped people, from people who witnessed the events, to people who lost their entire families.”

Carton said the emergency team, consisting of a logistics expert and three medical staff, began assessing the city’s primary health care centers on Friday.

“We visited three health centers in the west – one of which is inactive due to the death of almost all medical staff. The other two health centers are working with volunteer doctors from Tripoli, but they are asking for support – especially in the area of ​​mental health support for people coming to the centre,” Carton said.

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Carton said the situation of internally displaced people remains unclear, saying the group has identified an area in western Tripoli that is home to about 3,000 displaced people, but there are more sheltering in the homes of friends and colleagues.

In Derna, those who lost their homes are being housed in municipal buildings such as schools and universities, according to Bernaz.

“If you see the scale of the devastation and the area that was destroyed, it is huge,” Burnaz said. “You can see the cars on the third and fourth floors of the building stuck there… It was huge, like something that had never been seen before.” .

A number of countries pledged to send aid to Libya, but delivering supplies to the affected areas has proven difficult, with many roads closed and bridges destroyed. Rescue efforts have also been hampered by the current political situation in Libya, where the oil-rich country is divided between two warring governments – one in the east and the other in the west.

Libya’s National Meteorological Center reported that more than 16 inches of rain fell on the northeastern city of Al Bayda in the 24 hours through Sunday, according to flood tracking website Floodlist.

The head of the United Nations World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, said Thursday that most flood victims in Libya could have been avoided if the divided country had an effective meteorological service.

Talas said in a statement that the Libyan National Meteorological Center issued early warnings about heavy rains and floods, but they did not address “the danger posed by the old dams.”

ABC News’ Will Gretzky contributed to this report.

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