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Libya Storm Likely to Raise Death Toll as Bodies Wash Up

Bodies were tragically washing ashore in eastern Libya on Wednesday, marking a devastating turn of events following a powerful storm that wreaked havoc on whole neighborhoods, sweeping them out to sea. Thousands are already confirmed dead, with many more missing.

The torrential flood, unleashed by the Sunday night storm that breached dams, caused the obliteration of roughly a quarter of the Mediterranean city of Derna. Entire multi-storey buildings, with families inside, were swept away. Hichem Abu Chkiouat, the minister of civil aviation in the eastern Libyan administration, somberly noted, “The sea is constantly dumping dozens of bodies. We have counted more than 5,300 dead so far, and the number is likely to increase significantly and may even double because the number of missing people is also thousands.”

Tens of thousands have been rendered homeless, prompting an urgent plea for international aid as Libya grapples with an unprecedented disaster. Officials fear that at least 10,000 people are missing or dead, although confirmed death tolls vary. Tariq Kharaz, a spokesperson for the eastern authorities, reported that 3,200 bodies had been recovered, with 1,100 remaining unidentified.

The United Nations migration agency, the International Organization for Migration, stated that at least 30,000 people have been displaced in Derna, further emphasizing the scale of this catastrophe. The devastation is evident from elevated vantage points above Derna, where the city center, situated along a seasonal riverbed, has been transformed into a wide expanse of muddy water, its buildings entirely swept away.

In local hospitals, scores of bodies, covered in blankets, lay in corridors and on pavements as residents tried to identify their loved ones. Mustafa Salem, who lost 30 family members, expressed the magnitude of the loss: “We are all neighbors. We lost 30 people so far, 30 members of the same family. We haven’t found anyone.”

As aid convoys and bulldozer-laden trucks approached the city, it was evident that recovery efforts were underway. Satellite images of Derna before and after the disaster revealed the transformation of a narrow waterway through the city center into a wide scar, with all the buildings lining it erased. Extensive damage was also visible in other parts of the city.

Rescue operations are compounded by the deep political divisions in Libya, a country of 7 million people that has struggled to establish a stable central government since the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The internationally recognized Government of National Unity (GNU) operates in Tripoli in the west, while a parallel administration is based in the east, including Derna.

Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah of Tripoli referred to the floods as an unprecedented catastrophe, and Libya’s Presidential Council head, Mohammed al-Menfi, called for national unity. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs mobilized emergency response teams to provide assistance on the ground, while several countries, including Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, have rushed aid to Libya. The UAE, in particular, sent two aid planes carrying 150 tonnes of urgent food, relief, and medical supplies to eastern Libya.


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