Rescuers and volunteers are busy searching for thousands of people missing in Derna on Friday, after deadly tsunami-like floods devastated the 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. .
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, even if the toll differs from one source to another. The country has been plunged into chaos since the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with two rival governments, the UN-recognized one based in the capital Tripoli, in the west.
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 .
“Carried away by the waves”
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.
Residents say hundreds of bodies still lie under tons of mud and rubble.
“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 the Chiha district, spared from the floods.
“I have lost friends, loved ones. They are either buried under the mud, or have been swept away by the waves towards the sea,” he added, his voice choked with emotion.
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 Middle East and North Africa have promised to send aid. 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.
“We are trying to (...) take DNA samples and take photos of the victims before burying them to help with their identification later,” said the spokesperson for the interior ministry of the eastern government , Lieutenant Tarek al-Kharraz, on local television.
Deploring a "catastrophic" situation, the UN Office of 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.
After the destruction of numerous roads, "the municipality (of Derna) urges the authorities to set up a maritime corridor for emergency aid and evacuations", indicated Ocha, also estimating the number at some 884.000 of people directly affected by the disaster.
On Wednesday, Martin Griffiths released ten million dollars from an emergency fund for victims, saying that the UN had deployed "a solid team on the ground to support and finance the international response".
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".
The Editorial Board (with AFP)