A week after Libya floods, efforts to aid survivors gather pace

Libya  AP / Yousef Murad
© AP / Yousef Murad

A week after massive flash floods devastated the Libyan coastal city of Derna, sweeping thousands to their deaths, the international aid effort to help survivors is slowly gathering pace.

Search-and-rescue teams wearing face masks and protective suits kept up the search for bodies or survivors on Sunday, combing a wasteland of smashed buildings, crushed cars and uprooted trees.

Traumatised residents, 30,000 of whom are now homeless in Derna alone, badly need clean water, food, shelter and basic supplies amid a growing risk of cholera, diarrhoea, dehydration and malnutrition, UN agencies warn.

Emergency response teams and aid have been deployed from France, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, with more on the way from other nations.

The aid effort has been hampered by the political division of Libya, which was thrown into chaos after the overthrow of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The North African country now remains split between two rival governments – a UN-backed administration in the capital Tripoli, and another based in the east, where last week's disaster took place.

Thousands missing

The true death toll remains unknown, with untold numbers swept into the sea.

The eastern administration has so far confirmed more than 3,200 deaths in Derna. But other Libyan officials and humanitarian organisations warned that the final toll could be much higher, with thousands still missing.

A week on from the disaster, bodies are still washing up on the sea shore, along with vast amounts of household items and debris.

Hamza Al-Khafifi, 45, a soldier from Benghazi, described to French news agency AFP finding the unclothed bodies of "old, young, women, men and children" strewn along the seafront.

"Bodies were stuck between rocks," he said.
Meanwhile the International Committee of the Red Cross warned of another risk in the flood area – unexploded landmines and other ordnance left over from the war that may have been washed into areas previously free of weapon contamination.

Solidarity efforts

The United Nations has launched an aid appeal for more than $71 million.

The aid being sent to Libya includes water, food, tents, blankets, hygiene kits, medicines and emergency surgical supplies as well as heavy machinery to help clear the debris, and more body bags.

A field hospital sent from France was now operational, President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Sunday.

The scale of the devastation has also prompted shows of solidarity across divided Libya, as volunteers in Tripoli collect aid for the flood victims.

(with AFP)