The death toll from floods that hit the eastern Libyan city of Derna reached more than 5,000 and is expected to rise, a local health official said on Wednesday, as authorities struggled to get aid to the coastal town where thousands remain missing were missing and tens of thousands were left homeless.
Aid workers who managed to reach the city, which was cut off Sunday evening as flash floods washed away most access roads, described devastation in the city center, where search and rescue teams combed destroyed residential buildings for bodies and recovered bodies floating offshore.
“Bodies are everywhere, in houses, on the streets, at sea. Wherever you go, you find dead men, women and children,” Emad al-Falah, an aid worker from Benghazi, said by phone from Derna. “Entire families were lost.”
The flooding caused significant damage to infrastructure in the coastal city of Derna and displaced at least 30,000 people, the UN migration agency said. The damage is so great that the city is almost inaccessible to humanitarian workers, said the International Organization for Migration.
Mediterranean storm Daniel caused deadly flooding in many eastern cities, but Derna was hit worst. As the storm raged across the coast on Sunday evening, residents said they heard loud explosions as levees collapsed outside the town. Floods washed down the Wadi Derna, a river that flows from the mountains through the city to the sea.
More than half of the bodies collected by Monday were buried in mass graves in Derna, eastern Libyan Health Minister Othman Abduljaleel said. Rescue teams worked day and night to recover many other bodies scattered on the streets and under the rubble. Some bodies were recovered from the sea.
The frightening devastation showed the intensity of the storm but also Libya’s vulnerability. The country is divided by rival governments, one in the east, the other in the west, and the result is infrastructure neglect in many areas.
The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to Derna. Of the seven streets leading into the city, only two are accessible from the southern edge. Bridges over the Derna River connecting the eastern and western parts of the city have also collapsed, according to the UN migration agency. The destruction has hampered the arrival of international rescue teams and the delivery of humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed or damaged.
“The city of Derna was inundated by seven-meter-high waves that destroyed everything in their path,” Yann Fridez, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Libya, told broadcaster France24. “The human toll is enormous.”
Local emergency responders, including troops, government workers, volunteers and residents, continued to dig through the rubble in search of the dead. They also used inflatable boats and helicopters to retrieve bodies from the water and inaccessible areas.
“This is a disaster in every sense of the word,” a wailing survivor who lost 11 family members told a local television station as a group of rescuers tried to calm him. The television station did not identify the survivor.
Ahmed Abdalla, a survivor who joined the search and rescue operations, said the bodies were placed in the yard of a local hospital and then transferred to mass graves in the city’s only intact cemetery for burial.
“The situation is indescribable. Entire families died in this disaster. Some were washed into the sea,” Abdalla said by phone from Derna.
Bulldozers have been working over the past two days to repair and clear roads to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid and heavy equipment urgently needed for the search and rescue operations. Derna is 250 kilometers east of Benghazi, where international help has been arriving since Tuesday.
Libya’s neighbors Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, have sent rescue teams and humanitarian aid. President Joe Biden also said the United States is sending emergency funds to aid groups and coordinating with Libyan authorities and the United Nations to provide additional support.
According to the state news agency, Mohammed Abu-Lamousha, a spokesman for the eastern Libyan Interior Ministry, put the death toll in Derna at over 5,300 on Tuesday. Dozens more were reported dead in other cities in eastern Libya, he said.
Authorities have transferred hundreds of bodies to morgues in surrounding cities. In the city of Tobruk, 169 kilometers (105 miles) east of Derna, the Tobruk Medical Center mortuary received more than 300 bodies of people who died in the flood in Derna. Among them were 84 Egyptians, according to a list of the dead obtained by The Associated Press.
Dozens of bodies of Egyptians killed in the floods have been returned to their homeland. Most of the dead came from a village, el-Sharif, in the southern province of Beni Suef. They were buried on Wednesday morning after a mass burial attended by hundreds of villagers. Four of the dead were buried at another funeral in the Nile Delta province of Beheira.
Among the dead was the family of Saleh Sariyeh, 60, a Palestinian from the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon whose home was washed away by the floods, his nephew Mohammed Sariyeh told The Associated Press.
Mohammed Sariyeh said his uncle had lived in Derna for decades with his wife Sanaa Jammal and his two daughters Walaa, 27, and Hoda, 25, and were all killed on Monday. He added that friends called them from Libya and told the family that his uncle’s apartment was in a building in the city center that had been washed away during the storm.
The four were buried in Derna, Mohammed Sariyeh said, adding that the family in Lebanon would not accept condolences in the camp due to ongoing fighting in Ein el-Hilweh.
At least 10,000 people were still missing in the city, according to Tamer Ramadan, the Libyan envoy of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He said 40,000 people had been displaced in Derna and other towns hit by floods in eastern Libya.
Known for its white-painted houses and palm gardens, Derna is about 900 kilometers (560 miles) east of the capital Tripoli. It is controlled by the forces of powerful military commander Khalifa Hifter, who is allied with the eastern Libyan government. The rival government in western Libya, based in Tripoli, is allied with other armed groups.
Much of Derna was built by Italy when Libya was under Italian occupation in the first half of the 20th century. The city was once a center for extremist groups during the years of chaos following the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed from Beirut.
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/national-international/death-toll-in-libya-surpasses-5100-after-devastating-floods-in-derna/3644483/ More than 5,200 dead in Libya after devastating floods in Derna – NBC10 Philadelphia