A week after massive flash floods devastated the Libyan coastal town of Derna, killing thousands, the international aid effort to help survivors is slowly gathering pace.
Search and rescue teams wearing masks and protective suits continued Sunday to search for bodies or survivors, combing a wasteland of destroyed buildings, crushed cars and uprooted trees.
Traumatized residents, 30,000 of whom are now homeless in Derna alone, are in dire need of clean water, food, shelter and basic necessities amid a growing risk of cholera, diarrhea, 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 countries.
The aid effort has been hampered by Libya’s political division, which was plunged into chaos after the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The North African country now remains divided between two rival governments: a UN-backed government in the capital Tripoli and another based in the east, where last week’s disaster took place.
Thousands of missing
The actual death toll remains unknown, with untold numbers swept out to sea.
The eastern administration has so far confirmed more than 3,200 deaths in Derna. But other Libyan officials and aid organizations have warned that the final toll could be much higher, with thousands still missing.
A week after the disaster, bodies are still washing up on the seashore, along with large quantities of household items and debris.
Hamza Al-Khafifi, 45, a soldier from Benghazi, described to the French news agency AFP discovering naked bodies of “old, young, women, men and children” scattered along the seafront.
“The bodies were stuck between the rocks,” he said.
At the same time, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned of another risk in the flooded area: unexploded landmines and other munitions left over from war that may have been washed into previously free areas of contamination by weapons.
The United Nations has appealed for more than $71 million in aid.
The aid sent to Libya includes water, food, tents, blankets, hygiene kits, medicines and emergency surgical equipment, as well as heavy machinery to help eliminate the debris, and more body bags.
A field hospital sent from France is now operational, President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Sunday.
In Libya, the damage caused by the storm is immense. France stands united. Our field hospital is operational. Thank you to the rescuers and firefighters mobilized to help the populations. pic.twitter.com/3J7AXr9ITM
-Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) September 17, 2023
The scale of the damage has also sparked solidarity protests in divided Libya, as volunteers in Tripoli collect aid for flood victims.