The death toll in Libya has risen to 11,300 according to the Libyan Red Crescent, and another 10,000 are feared missing after a storm in the Mediterranean caused dams to burst — washing entire coastal neighborhoods out to sea.
Storm Daniel pounded the North African country Sunday night, unleashing heavy rainfall that caused flash flooding. But the major destruction would come hours later, when two dams located on the Wadi Derna River burst, creating a wall of water that destroyed everything in its path. The greatest devastation was seen in the port city of Derna, which is home to 90,000 people.
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The latest figures released by a charity in Libya on Thursday evening show the true devastation of the disaster sparked by Storm Daniel. The Libyan Red Crescent said on Thursday that 11,300 had died in the city of Derna alone. Derna's mayor Abdel-Moneim al-Ghaithi said the death toll would likely climb to 20,000 considering the devastation of the city. Another 170 people reportedly died in neighboring coastal cities.
On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross posted a video of its donation of 5,000 body bags to the Libyan Red Crescent in support of "the dignified treatment of the dead," following the crisis.
According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNICEF, at least 30,000 people have been internally displaced in Libya — sheltering in schools with little resources. Three hospitals in the north-east of the country are not in operation putting pressure on the resources of other surrounding hospitals. Nearly 300,000 children are believed to have been exposed to the conditions of Storm Daniel and the subsequent flash floods and are in need of humanitarian assistance, UNICEF figures state.
One of the two dams that burst causing the major destruction and devastation that has been seen in Derna has been labeled by locals as the "dam of death," Sky News reported. "The flood has completely changed their lives," one survivor said. "This is not a natural disaster, this is a catastrophe."
A U.N. chief said that the scope of the disaster could have been lessened if there had been advanced warning systems in place. Speaking from Geneva, World Meteorological Organization head Petteri Taalas told reporters that the emergency warning services could have "minimized those losses."
Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Libyan parliament said on Thursday that the government did everything it could to prevent the disaster that the country last weekend.
Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh announced on Tuesday that the government would allocate 2 billion Libyan dinars ($412 million) to a reconstruction fund for the cities of Derna and Benghazi.
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What it’s like on the ground
The center of Derna was described by a Sky News reporter as "360° destruction" with a strong smell of corpses in the air.
"As we walk through the mountains of rubble, boulders, and rocks, we have to keep reminding ourselves these were once people's homes, this was once a street packed with shops and malls," the reporter said. "Even the road is nonexistent."
Civil aviation minister and member of Libya’s emergency committee Hisham Chkiouat described the weekend's flooding as a “tsunami,” the BBC reported.
“I returned from Derna. ... It is very disastrous,” Chkiouat told Reuters on Tuesday. “Bodies are lying everywhere — in the sea, in the valleys, under the buildings. I am not exaggerating when I say that 25% of the city has disappeared.”
On Wednesday, Chkiouat said the sea was "constantly dumping dozens of bodies" — meaning the death toll is likely to rise quickly as more bodies are swept back ashore.
One local man from Derna spoke to the BBC about the "ghastly, unimaginable scene" that had become of his city. "The bodies of women and children were floating past us," Husam Abdelgawi said from the safety of the nearby city of Al Qubbah. "Some of the bodies were swept by the water into our house."
The cities of Al-Marj, Benghazi and Soussa were also affected. Pictures from Libya show streets completely eradicated, cars overturned and roads collapsed.
“Bodies are everywhere, inside houses, in the streets, at sea," Emad al-Falah, an aid worker from Benghazi, told the AP about what he saw in Derna. "Wherever you go, you find dead men, women and children. Entire families were lost.”
Libyans have endured more than a decade of conflict and political chaos. Derna, the city hardest hit by the flooding, was once controlled by Islamic extremists and had been neglected for years. Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow specializing in Libya at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, told the AP that local authorities had often discussed developing Derna but nothing ever came of it. “Even the maintenance aspect was simply absent,” Harchaoui said. “Everything kept being delayed.”