10,000 People Missing, Thousands Feared Dead as Eastern Libya is Devastated by Floods

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A worker stands next to medical aid plane that arrived at al Abraq airport, after a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit Libya, in Al Abraq, Libya Tuesday. (REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili)

CAIRO (AP) — CAIRO (AP) — Emergency workers recovered hundreds of people killed in the wreckage of Libya’s eastern city of Derna on Tuesday, and it was feared the toll could spiral with 10,000 people reported still missing after floodwaters smashed through dams and washed away entire neighborhoods of the city.

The startling death and devastation wreaked by Mediterranean storm Daniel pointed to the storm’s intensity, but also the vulnerability of a nation torn apart by chaos for more than a decade. The country is divided by rival governments, one in the east, the other in the west, and the result has been neglect of infrastructure in many areas.

Outside help was only just starting to reach Derna on Tuesday, more than 36 hours after the disaster struck. The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to the coastal city of some 89,000.

At least 700 people have been buried so far, and over 1,000 have been found, the health minister for eastern Libya said. Derna’s ambulance authority put the current death toll at 2,300.

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But the toll is likely to be higher, in the thousands, said Tamer Ramadan, Libya envoy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He told a U.N. briefing in Geneva via videoconference from Tunisia that at least 10,000 people were still missing.

The situation in Libya was “as devastating as the situation in Morocco,” Ramadan said, referring to the deadly earthquake that hit near the city of Marrakesh on Friday night.

The destruction came to Derna and other parts of eastern Libya on Sunday night. As the storm pounded the coast, Derna residents said they heard loud explosions and realized that dams outside the city had collapsed. Flash floods were unleashed down Wadi Derna, a river running from the mountains through the city and into the sea.

The wall of water “erased everything in its way,” said one resident, Ahmed Abdalla.

Videos posted online by residents showed large swaths of mud and wreckage where the raging waters had swept away neighborhoods on both banks of the river. Multi-story apartment buildings that once were well back from the river had facades ripped away and concrete floors collapsed. Cars lifted by the flood were left dumped on top of each other.

On Tuesday, local emergency responders, including troops, government workers, volunteers and residents dug through rubble looking for the dead. They also used inflatable boats to retrieve bodies from the water.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Othman Abduljaleel, the health minister in Libya’s eastern government. “The bodies are still lying on the ground in many parts (of the city). Hospitals are filled with bodies. And there are areas we have yet to reach.”

Emergency responders, including troops, government workers, volunteers and residents were digging through rubble to recover the dead. They also used inflatable boats to retrieve bodies from the water. Excavators and other equipment have yet to arrive in Derna.

Tamer Ramadan, Libya envoy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said 10,000 people were missing after the unprecedented flooding. Speaking to reporters at a U.N. briefing in Geneva via videoconference from Tunisia, he said the death toll was “huge” and expected to reach into the thousands in the coming days.

Referring to Friday’s devastating earthquake in Morocco, on the other side of North Africa, Ramadan said the situation in Libya was “as devastating as the situation in Morocco.”

Ossama Hamad, prime minister of the eastern Libyan government, said that many of the missing were believed to have been carried away after two upstream dams burst. He said the devastation in Derna is far beyond the capabilities of his country.

After more than a decade of chaos, Libya remains divided between two rival administrations: one in the east and one in the west, each backed by different militias and foreign governments. The conflict has left the oil rich North African country with crumbling and inadequate infrastructure.

Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates were among those that said they would send humanitarian assistance and teams to help with search and rescue efforts. The U.S. Embassy said Monday it was contacting the United Nations and Libyan authorities on how to deliver aid to the most affected areas.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi convened his military commanders on Tuesday to arrange urgent assistance to Libya. He said in comments that the military would deploy equipment and personnel in coordination with eastern Libyan forces to help affected communities.

Source: Hamodia

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