Aid trickles into flood-stricken Libya with thousands missing

Aid from Libya’s neighbors and allies began to trickle in days after a devastating storm ravaged the nation’s northeastern coast, leaving at least 2,300 people dead and as many as 10,000 missing, according to Bloomberg.

Hardest hit by Mediterranean storm Daniel was Derna. A deluge of water swept through the city of 90,000 after two dams broke, washing away buildings and even neighborhoods. Officials in the eastern part of the divided OPEC nation said water levels had reached the fourth or fifth floors of some buildings. 

The scale of the destruction and the difficulty of the rescue and relief effort mirrored that in Morocco, where more than 2,900 people have died in the most powerful earthquake to hit the North African country for more than a century. 

But compounding the challenges in Libya is its long-running political division. Rival administrations in the west and east mean the country, despite its oil wealth, has suffered a dearth of investment in infrastructure and social services.

In a sign of some convergence after the tragedy, those rival governments pledged two billion Libyan dinars ($414 million) in assistance to Derna and other areas affected in the east. Neighboring Egypt dispatched its military chief of staff and other officers, along with relief supplies, while Algeria sent in its interior and health ministers, along with rescue workers, according to Arab state media. 

Libya’s situation “is the very definition of a disaster,” Othman Abdel-Jaleel, health minister for Libya’s east, said in a clip carried by Al Masar TV. “The corpses are still scattered” in various hospitals awaiting identification.

Libyan officials have put the death toll at no less than 2,300 people so far and said the number missing was anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 — with that higher estimate equating to roughly 10% of Derna’s population. Libya’s envoy to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies told reporters in Geneva about 10,000 people were unaccounted for.

The death toll from storm Daniel has surpassed that of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf coast of the US in 2005 and left over 1,800 dead - making it the second deadliest storm in American modern history.

Khalifa Haftar, who heads the most powerful military force in Libya’s east, said rescue efforts were underway. The Libyan National Army, which he heads, said Tuesday that 25%-45% of Derna had disappeared, according to Arab satellite channel Arabiya. 

In an apparent effort to deflect potential blame in Derna, the LNA said it had issued repeated warnings in the area about the storm.