Libyan morgues face a crisis as they grapple with a surge of bodies amid ongoing search efforts for thousands missing in the aftermath of a devastating flood
Libya is in a frantic race to lay its deceased to rest as bodies accumulate in the streets of Derna, a coastal city in the north. The city has been left in ruins after a torrential downpour breached two dams, washing away homes into the sea. Hospitals are overflowing with the deceased, yet remain incapacitated, leaving survivors untreated. Hospital staff and officials from the eastern parliament-backed government estimate the death toll to be at least 5,000, with around 10,000 more individuals unaccounted for, possibly swept into the sea or buried beneath the debris that now litters the city, which was once home to over 100,000 people. The flooding has displaced over 30,000 individuals, making some regions inaccessible to humanitarian groups due to extensive infrastructure damage. Out of the seven entry points to Derna, only two are currently accessible.
Rescue teams are painstakingly sifting through the debris in search of survivors and bodies. Officials are striving to adhere to Islamic traditions, which dictate that the deceased should be accorded burial rites within three days. Libya's minister of state for cabinet affairs, Adel Juma, has established a committee, known as "The Martyrs’ committee," to identify the missing individuals and oversee the burial procedures in accordance with Sharia and legal standards.
The catastrophic aftermath of Storm Daniel has compounded the challenges faced by rescuers as they battle to clear roads and debris in their quest to locate survivors. The storm's destruction also disrupted communications, adding to the frustrations of rescue operations and heightening anxiety among family members outside Libya who anxiously await news about their missing loved ones.
Ayah, a Palestinian woman with relatives in Derna, expressed her deep concern about their well-being, stating that she has been unable to establish contact with them since the onset of the floods.
"I'm genuinely worried about them. I have two cousins residing in Derna. It appears that all means of communication have been disrupted, and I'm uncertain of their current status. The distressing videos emerging from Derna are truly terrifying. We are all in a state of fear," she shared with CNN.
Libya was thrown into turmoil during the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi's regime and subsequently torn apart by a devastating civil war. The extensive devastation serves as a stark reminder of the nation's vulnerability, as it has grappled with ongoing factional conflicts and turmoil for years.
Libya's UN-backed Government of National Unity (GNU), under the leadership of Abdulhamid Dbeibeh, is situated in Tripoli in northwestern Libya. In contrast, the eastern region is controlled by Commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), aligned with the eastern-based parliament led by Osama Hamad. Derna, located approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles) east of Benghazi, is under the administration of Haftar and his eastern government.
A potent low-pressure system initially entered the Mediterranean and later intensified into a cyclone with tropical characteristics as it crossed the Libyan coastline. Storm Daniel also caused unprecedented flooding in Greece last week, resulting in a considerably lower death toll.
This deadly storm is occurring within an extraordinary year marked by climate-related disasters and record-breaking weather extremes, including devastating wildfires and extreme heat events.
Although multiple cities in the region were affected by the floods, Derna endured the most extensive damage when two dams collapsed, leading to entire neighborhoods being swept into the turbulent sea.
Osama Aly, a spokesperson for Emergency and Ambulance services, remarked, "Libya was ill-prepared for such a catastrophe."
Turkish aircraft carrying humanitarian assistance arrived in Libya on Tuesday, as reported by Turkey's Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would dispatch 168 search and rescue teams along with humanitarian aid to Benghazi, according to the state-run news agency Anadolu Agency.
Italy has also mobilized a civil defense team to support rescue efforts, as confirmed by the country's Civil Protection Department on Tuesday.
In parallel, the US Embassy in Tripoli declared an official humanitarian need, as announced by their special envoy, Ambassador Richard Norland.