Rival governments cooperate to aid Libya’s flood victims as misery piles on

Rival governments cooperate to aid Libya’s flood victims as misery piles on

It has now been more than three days since Libya’s eastern port city of Derna was practically flattened as Storm Daniel unleashed its wrath on a city that was mostly fast asleep.

Usama al-Husadi, a 52-year-old driver, has been searching for his wife and five children since the storm struck on Sunday night, bursting dams above the city, the resulting floods engulfing everything in their path.

“I walked around, searching for them … I went to all the hospitals and schools but no luck,” al-Husadi said sobbing, dialling his wife’s number over and over, only to get no reply.

“We lost at least 50 members from my father’s family, between missing and dead,” he said.

Like al-Husadi, many people have lost dozens of relatives to the disaster.

More than 6,000 people are dead and that number is likely to double or even quadruple, Islamic Relief warned late Wednesday.

The Libyan Red Crescent said on Thursday morning that a further 10,000 people are missing, a tally that could be higher.

“This gives you an indication of the limited infrastructure in Libya. The storm hit Greece as well as Libya. But in Greece, there were six deaths and in Libya 6,000,” Salah Aboulgasem, deputy director of partner development at Islamic Relief, told Al Jazeera.

Rival administrations cooperating

Domestic efforts to aid survivors gathered momentum on Thursday despite political fractions.

A ministerial delegation left Tripoli late on Wednesday to assess the damage in Derna and other nearby cities hit by the disaster, according to Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina, reporting from Tripoli.

“It seems like the authorities are able to cooperate,” said Traina.

The overall situation in Libya is complicated by deep political fractures in the country of seven million people that has lacked a strong central government and has been embroiled in conflict on and off since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

An internationally recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) is based in Tripoli in the west, while a parallel administration operates in the east, including Derna.

While the floods are a catastrophe, “it could perhaps be something that unites the rival politicians”, said Traina.

International assistance gathers pace

A global effort to assist Libya’s countless victims also gathered pace on Thursday. On Wednesday evening, a Turkish ship carrying equipment to set up two field hospitals in Libya with 148 medical staff left the city of Izmir, according to Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.

That is in addition to three aircraft of humanitarian aid, as well as rescue and medical teams Ankara sent on Tuesday.

A naval vessel from Italy is also expected to head to Libya on Thursday to provide logistical and medical support.

Several other countries and bodies, including Algeria, Egypt, France, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, the United Kingdom, the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union, have helped in numerous ways from militarily to medically in recent days.

Organisations like Islamic Relief are also working with local partners and have begun funding distributions of essential aid such as food, blankets, and mattresses.

“Islamic Relief is going to be focusing our intervention in Bayda, one of the surrounding towns,” said Aboulgasem. “We cannot get in by road to Derna. Nobody can, the road doesn’t exist. So we’re helping the people that have got out of there.”

Derna and beyond

Derna has borne the brunt of the disaster, its Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi said on Wednesday, estimating the number of deaths in the city could reach between 18,000 to 20,000.

“During the morning, the sun is quite strong. The smell and the warmth of the bodies rotting, it’s really sad to say, but that’s the reality underneath the buildings. So it’s a very graphic and harrowing situation,” said al-Ghaithi.

More than 70 of Derna’s dead were workers who migrated from a single Upper Egyptian village, al-Sharif. A day earlier, hundreds there attended a mass funeral for the victims.

The risk of water-borne and other diseases is also quite high, Ahmed al-Mandhari, regional director of the World Health Organization for the Eastern Mediterranean, warned on Thursday in an interview with Sky News Arabia.

As of Wednesday, at least 30,000 people had been displaced by the flooding in Derna, the UN’s International Organization for Migration said.

As the devastation piles on, journalists are reportedly being stopped from entering Derna by the Libyan National Army, their phones confiscated, according to sources.

Al Jazeera has not been able to independently verify this claim.

The storm also hit other areas in eastern Libya, including the towns of Bayda, where Islamic Relief is focusing operations, as well as Sousa and Marj.

Rescuers retrieved at least 150 bodies on Wednesday from the sea off Bayda, bringing the death tally in the town to about 200, according to Ossama Ali, a spokesman for an ambulance centre in eastern Libya.

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