An official in eastern Libya has denied allegations that many of those killed in devastating floods last weekend were told to stay in their homes. Othman Abdul Jalil, a spokesperson for the Benghazi based government, told the BBC that soldiers warned people in the city of Derna to flee. He denied that people were told not to evacuate, but conceded some may have felt the threat was exaggerated.
Meanwhile, there is a lack of major international aid agencies in Derna. The floods have destroyed crucial infrastructure like roads and telecommunication systems, making it difficult to organize aid operations. The death toll remains uncertain, with estimates ranging from 6,000 to 11,000. Derna’s mayor has warned that the total could reach 20,000, as many more are still missing.
The United Nations humanitarian office reported that there are still survivors and dead bodies beneath the rubble. It will take some time to determine the true number of casualties. Preventing a health crisis and providing shelter, clean water, and food are critical in the ongoing relief efforts.
Over 1,000 people have already been buried in mass graves, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked disaster workers to halt such burials due to the lasting mental distress it can cause for grieving family members.
The floods in eastern Libya were a result of two dams bursting after Storm Daniel. The country’s fragmented political situation is complicating the cleanup process. Libya is divided between two rival governments, which has led to criticism regarding the maintenance of the collapsed dams.
There are conflicting reports on evacuation orders and when people were told to flee their homes. Derna’s Mayor claims to have personally ordered the evacuation days before the disaster, but this has not been verified. Survivors stated that police and military urged them to leave their homes as the weather worsened, but it seems that many did not take the threat seriously.
Climate change is thought to be increasing the frequency and severity of such storms, although it is too early to attribute the severity of this particular storm to rising global temperatures. Experts suggest that climate change intensifies rainfall associated with these storms. A top UN official has emphasized the disaster as a reminder of the challenges posed by climate change.