Thursday, May 30, 2024

Libya: Death toll from heavy rains and storm hits over 5,000

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Elvis Adjetey
Elvis Adjetey
Elvis Adjetey is an experienced African journalist who has worked with top media brands in Ghana where he is based.

The death toll from the powerful storm that swept through Libya has now exceeded 5000.

There is massive devastation in Libya’s eastern city of Derna after the powerful storm caused two dams to burst, sweeping away large parts of the port city.

The internationally-recognised government in Tripoli said at least 2,300 people died. But the eastern administration which controls Derna said more than 5,300 bodies had been found.

According to a minister from the eastern administration, thousands of people are still missing. “The sea is constantly dumping dozens of bodies”, the minister said.

At least 34,000 people have been displaced in the flood-hit areas with viral photos showing mountains of rubble, crushed cars, and body bags lining the streets.

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Selective aid

Some aid has arrived, but with the country struggling under divided political administrations in the east and west, Libya’s Prime Minister in Tripoli said foreign aid will be evaluated before being accepted.

“There were multiple offers of help and we will only accept aid that is necessary,” Abdul Hamid Dbeibah says.

Some aid has started to arrive in eastern Libya, where the worst-hit city Derna is located, but rescue efforts have been hampered by the political situation – the country is split between two rival governments.

Selective acceptance of international aid would also ease the co-ordination of the rescue operation, Dbeibah claims.

Hospitals overwhelmed 

The charity International Rescue Committee says many clinics and hospitals in eastern Libya are overwhelmed with those injured in the floods.

Some patients are being evacuated to other cities, but with phone lines down and roads and bridges destroyed, medical rescue efforts to affected areas are proving difficult, the organisation says.

“Ambulances are in need of repair, physical access challenges and needs for logistical support are making it difficult for health volunteers to reach affected areas,” Elie Abouaoun, charity’s country director, says.

“There are also fears about the possibility of waterborne diseases taking hold.”

Causes of devastation

The devastation was caused by the collapse of two dams in the Derna valley during a heavy storm.

This caused huge amounts of water to race towards the sea and devastate the coastal city.

One expert told Al-Wasat, Libya’s leading news website, that the dams were poorly maintained.

“The security chaos and Libyan authorities’ laxity in carrying out close monitoring of safety measures led to the catastrophe,” claimed expert Mohammed Ahmed.

But the experts we‘ve spoken to say it’s too early to say whether the extreme rainfall was simply too much for the dams to handle or whether the condition of the structures also played a role.

Based on their observations, the dams were likely made from rockfill structures – dumped and compacted soil or rocks – which is not as strong as concrete.

“These dams are susceptible to overtopping [when water exceeds a dam’s capacity] and while concrete dams can survive overtopping, rockfill dams usually cannot,” says Dragan Savic, a professor of hydroinformatics at the University of Exeter.

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