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As The Sea Washes Bodies Ashore The Storm Death Toll In Libya Is Anticipated To Rise

13 September, NEAR DERNA, Libya (Reuters) – Wednesday, bodies washed ashore in eastern Libya, adding to the death toll from a storm that swept entire neighborhoods out to sea, with thousands verified dead and tens of thousands still missing.

Derna, a Mediterranean city, was obliterated by the flood torrent, which was unleashed on Sunday night after heavy rains caused dams to rupture above the city. Whole multi-story structures were swept away while families slept within.

Hichem Abu Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation for the administration that governs eastern Libya, told Reuters over the phone that the sea “constantly dumps dozens of bodies.”

“We have counted more than 5,300 dead so far, but that number is likely to increase significantly and may even double because the number of missing people is also in the thousands,” he continued.

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He stated that tens of thousands of people had been rendered homeless, and added that Libya lacked the experience to cope with the aftermath of such a catastrophe.

Officials estimate that at least 10,000 people are missing or presumed deceased, though confirmed death tolls vary. Tariq Kharaz, a spokesman for the eastern authorities, stated that 1,100 of the 3,200 bodies recovered had yet to be identified.

Tuesday at a hospital in Derna, dozens of corpses wrapped in blankets were placed on the floor of corridors or outside on the sidewalk so that residents could attempt to identify them.

Mustafa Salem stated that none of his extended family members who lived in close proximity to one another near a river valley and opposite a mosque had been discovered alive.

“Everyone was asleep and unprepared,” he told Reuters. “So far, we’ve lost thirty members — thirty members of the same family. We have not discovered anyone.”

The International Organization for Migration, the migration agency of the United Nations, reported that at least 30,000 persons had been displaced in Derna.

“We need bags for the bodies,” Lutfi al-Misrati, the director of the search squad, said in a phone interview with Al Jazeera.

The devastation was visible from vantage points above Derna, where the densely populated city center, which had been constructed along a seasonal riverbed, was now a wide, flat crescent of earth with stretches of muddy water gleaming in the sun, with all of its buildings washed away.

While Reuters was attempting to return to the city on Wednesday, aid convoys and bulldozer-equipped vehicles could be seen approaching.

Before and after the catastrophe, satellite images of the city revealed that what had been a narrow waterway through the city center was now a wide scar, with all the buildings that had lined it destroyed. In other areas of the city, structures had also been swept away.

Rescue operations are complicated by deep political fractures in the nation of 7 million people that has lacked a strong central government and been at war on-and-off since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In the west, the internationally recognized Government of National Unity (GNU) is headquartered in Tripoli, while in the east, including Derna, a parallel administration operates.

Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah of Tripoli, Libya, described the floods as an unprecedented calamity. Mohammed al-Menfi, the leader of Libya’s Presidential Council, has called for national unity.

Egyptian media reported that the bodies of dozens of Egyptian migrants killed by the storm in Libya arrived in Beni Suef on Wednesday, approximately 110 kilometers (68 miles) south of Cairo.

Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey, among others, have dispatched aid to Libya. The Italian defense ministry stated that two military aircraft carrying firefighters and other emergency rescue personnel, as well as a navy ship, would be dispatched.

WAM, the state news agency of the United Arab Emirates, reported that two aid planes transporting 150 tonnes of urgent food, relief, and medical supplies have been dispatched to eastern Libya.

Additional reporting contributed by Tarek Amara in Tunis, Nayera Abdallah, and Tala Ramadan, Alvissa Armellini in Rome, and Aidan Lewis in Cairo; writing by Tom Perry and Alastair McDowall Peter Graff’s editing



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