Libyan flood survivors weigh water shortages against landmine risk
DERNA. — People whose homes were swept away by flooding in Libya’s eastern city of Derna a week ago faced the dilemma yesterday of whether to stay and risk infection or flee through areas where landmines have been displaced by the torrents.
Thousands of people were killed after two dams above Derna broke on Sept. 10 during a powerful storm, bringing down residential blocks lining a usually dry river bed as people slept. Many bodies have been washed out to sea.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said approximately 11 300 people had died — more than double the figure given by the International Organisation for Migration last Friday.
The Libyan Red Crescent, which OCHA cited for the data, distanced itself from the report but OCHA stood by it.
More than 1 000 have already been buried in mass graves, according to the United Nations, and aid groups have warned against the practice. Libyan authorities have confirmed that 150 people have been poisoned by polluted water in the flood-hit areas.
Mohamed Wanis Tajouri said he had come to Derna from Benghazi down the coast with fellow medical students to carry out disinfection and sterilisation work.
“After floods epidemics occur,” he said.
Sunrise yesterday revealed a scene of quiet devastation, with piles of rubble cleared to the sides of empty roads along with tangled metal including pieces of wrecked cars. Hamad Awad sat on a blanket on an empty street with a bottle of water and bedding alongside him.
“I am staying in our area trying to clean it and trying to verify who is missing,” he said. “Thank God for giving us patience.”
Entire districts of Derna, with an estimated population of at least 120 000, were swept away or buried in mud. State media said at least 891 buildings had been destroyed in the city, whose mayor has said 20 000 people may have died.
Mohamed Alnaji Bushertila, a government employee, said 84 members of his wider family were missing. Another resident said survivors were at a loss over what to do next.
“We still do not know anything, we are hearing rumours, some are trying to reassure us, others are saying you need to leave the city or stay here. We have no water and no resources,” said the man, who gave just one name, Wasfi.
OCHA said the homeless were surviving in makeshift shelters, schools or packed into the houses of relatives or friends.
Flood waters had shifted landmines and other ordnance left over from years of conflict, posing an extra risk to the thousands of displaced people on the move, it said.
Aid organisations have flown in emergency aid and some countries have sent supplies, although international officials say much more help is needed. — Reuters