UN launches $71m urgent appeal for Libya flood victims

Published September 16, 2023
Libyan resident Saad Rajab al-Hassi and his children are seen outside their destroyed house, in the aftermath of the floods in Susah. — Reuters
Libyan resident Saad Rajab al-Hassi and his children are seen outside their destroyed house, in the aftermath of the floods in Susah. — Reuters

GENEVA: The United Nations is urgently seeking more than $71 million to assist those most in need after deadly flash floods swept Libya over the weekend.

Hurricane-strength Storm Daniel slammed into Libya on September 10, killing at least 4,000 people, with thousands more still missing.

In a flash appeal on Thursday, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said it expects the toll to rise.

The city of Derna, one of the hardest-hit locations, was reduced to a wasteland after two upstream dams burst on Sunday.

OCHA said estimates suggest 30 per cent of the city may have disappeared and with most roads collapsed local authorities are calling for a sea corridor to be established for relief and evacuations.

The entire seaside town of Sousse meanwhile remains submerged.

Calling the situation “catastrophic”, OCHA said its humanitarian partners need $71.4m to respond to the “most urgent needs of 250,000 people targeted out of the 884,000 people estimated to be in need”.

On Wednesday, UN OCHA head Martin Griffiths had announced an immediate emergency fund of $10m. “Entire neighbourhoods have been wiped off the map. Whole families, taken by surprise, were swept away in the deluge of water,” he said in a statement.

Still missing

Emergency teams on Friday kept up their search for the thousands still posted as missing from the tsunami-sized flash flood that swept the Libyan port city of Derna.

A journalist in Derna said central neighbourhoods on either side of the river, which normally dries up at this time of year, looked as if a steam roller had passed through, uprooting trees and buildings and hurling vehicles onto the port’s breakwaters.

“Within seconds the water level suddenly rose,” recounted one injured survivor who said he was swept away with his mother in the late-night ordeal before they both managed to scramble into an empty building downstream.

“The water was rising with us until we got to the fourth floor, the water was up to the second floor,” the unidentified man said from his hospital bed, in testimony published by the Benghazi Medical Centre.

“We could hear screams. From the window, I saw cars and bodies being carried away by the water. It lasted an hour or an hour and a half — but for us, it felt like a year.”

Seven-metre wave

Hundreds of body bags now line Derna’s mud-caked streets, awaiting mass burials, as traumatised and grieving residents search mangled buildings for missing loved ones and bulldozers clear streets of debris and mountains of sand.

In one shattered home, a rescue team pumped out the water to reveal a woman’s lifeless arms still clutching her dead child, a journalist reported.

“This disaster was violent and brutal,” said Yann Fridez, the head of the Libya delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had a team in Derna when the floodwaters hit.

“A wave seven metres (23 feet) high wiped out buildings and washed infrastructure into the sea. Now family members are missing, dead bodies are washing back up on shore and homes are destroyed.”

Abdelaziz Bousmya, who lives in the Chiha neighbourhood which was spared by the wall of water that devastated lower-lying districts, estimates that at least a tenth of the city’s population of 100,000 were killed.

“I lost my friends, my loved ones — they are all either buried under the mud or got swept out to sea by the floodwaters,” the 29-year-old said.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2023

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