Rescuers and volunteers are busy searching for thousands of people missing in Derna on Friday, after deadly floods devastated this coastal town in eastern Libya.

“We still have hope of finding survivors,” Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) declared in Geneva, refusing to give a human toll five days after the disaster. .

Teams from the Libyan Red Crescent “are still looking for possible survivors and removing bodies from the rubble in the most damaged neighborhoods” of Derna, its spokesperson, Taoufik Chokri, told AFP.

Other teams were trying on Friday to send aid to families in the eastern part of the city, spared from the floods but isolated due to cut roads, he added.

Mr. Chokri deplored a “very significant rate of destruction” in the city, refusing in turn to provide figures on the number of victims.

The UN emergency chief, Martin Griffiths, also said that the exact extent of the humanitarian catastrophe was “still unknown”.

In addition to the considerable damage, officials in the government of eastern Libya affected by the floods, not recognized by the UN, speak of at least 3,000 deaths, but many fear a much higher toll.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported more than 38,000 displaced people in the east, including 30,000 in Derna. “At least 10,000” people are also missing, according to the UN.

The work of rescue and search teams is considerably 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 led by Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah, and the other in the East, affiliated with the camp of powerful Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The disaster, however, sparked an unprecedented outpouring of aid from both camps, whose television channels broadcast simultaneously on Friday for the first time, a telethon for the benefit of the inhabitants of the affected towns, in particular Derna.

Pro-Haftar television stations later announced the arrival of the marshal in the town of Derna to “monitor the relief operations”.

The surge of water during the night from Sunday to Monday, caused by storm Daniel, broke two dams upstream, causing a violent flood of the wadi which crosses the city and waves several meters high, according to witnesses .

According to an AFP photographer on site, the city center of Derna now resembles land flattened by a steamroller. Trees were uprooted, buildings and bridges destroyed.

“The water was loaded with mud, trees, pieces of iron, the waves traveled for kilometers before invading the city center and carrying away or burying everything that was in their path,” said to AFP Abdelaziz Bousmya, 29, who lives in a neighborhood spared by the floods.

“I have lost friends, loved ones. They are either buried under the mud or have been swept away (…) towards the sea,” he added.

According to him, the Libyan authorities did not take the necessary measures to protect themselves from the disaster, simply ordering residents to stay at home in anticipation of the storm.

Since then, dozens of bodies have been discovered every day and sometimes buried in mass graves. Many people were swept towards the Mediterranean Sea which washed up dozens of corpses, raising fears of epidemics linked to their decomposition, according to health authorities.

The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and many countries in the region have promised help. Foreign rescue teams are already at work searching for possible survivors.

The authorities find themselves faced with a dilemma: keep the corpses pending their identification or bury them quickly to avoid their decomposition, the capacity of morgues being very limited, according to the spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior of the government of the East, Tarek al-Kharraz.

The UN Office for Humanitarian Coordination (OCHA) has launched an appeal for more than $71 million to provide immediate assistance to some 250,000 people most affected by the floods. He also estimated the number of people directly affected by the disaster at some 884,000.

For its part, the World Food Program (WFP) announced that it had started providing food aid to more than 5,000 families displaced by the floods, specifying that thousands of others in Derna are “without food or shelter”.

15/09/2023 18:56:51 –         Derna (Libye) (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP