Libya death toll climbs to 11,300 as rescuers retrieve decomposed bodies from sea

Members of the Emirati Rescue Team assist in relief work in Libya´s eastern city of Derna on September 16, 2023 in the aftermath of flash flooding. — AFP
Members of the Emirati Rescue Team assist in relief work in Libya´s eastern city of Derna on September 16, 2023 in the aftermath of flash flooding. — AFP

The death toll has risen to 11,300 as a result of the disastrous floods in the coastal city of Derna in eastern Libya, according to a UN report published on Saturday that also said that more deaths may be discovered as search efforts continue.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an additional 170 people have died due to flooding outside of Derna with at least 10,100 persons missing in the city alone.

“These figures are expected to rise as search-and-rescue crews work tirelessly to find survivors,” it added.

The UN reports that over 40,000 people have been displaced in northeastern Libya due to Storm Daniel’s extreme rainfall, which was exacerbated by factors such as ageing infrastructure, inadequate warnings, and the accelerating climate crisis.

Derna, a disaster epicentre, was split into two after flood waters swept entire neighbourhoods, displacing at least 30,000 people, with a population of around 100,000 before the tragedy, the UN said.

“With thousands of displaced people now on the move, the risk of exposure to landmines and Explosive Ordnance of War (ERW) leftover from years of conflict is on the rise, as flood waters have now shifted landmines and ERW,” OCHA said.

Storm Daniel’s flooding has exposed nearly 300,000 children to increased risks of cholera, malnutrition, diarrhoea, dehydration, and “increased risks of violence and exploitation,” the report added.

Rescue teams search for dead bodies at a beach, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 16, 2023. — Reuters
Rescue teams search for dead bodies at a beach, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 16, 2023. — Reuters

Decomposing bodies in the Mediterranean

International rescue missions are searching for survivors in collapsed buildings and the sea, with most dead bodies in the water, requiring more equipment and assistance to retrieve corpses from the Mediterranean.

“Bodies are severely decomposing and at one point retrieving them might not be possible,” a representative from the Tunisian mission said in a meeting with counterparts from Russia, Arab countries, Turkey and Italy.

“We need assistance so our intervention is more efficient,” the representative added.

Many of the remains were discovered in bays and coves in the Mediterranean that could only be reached by boat, according to other mission representatives from Egypt and the UAE, CNN reported.

About 50 victims were found by a rescuer, hanging from a cliff about seven nautical miles from the Derna port, in a region that was only accessible by divers and boats, an Algerian mission spokesperson claimed.

“If we get the right boats we can retrieve 100 bodies every day,” the Egyptian representative said.

Teams cautioned that if regions are not evacuated, dead remains that are trapped under mounds of mud in still-inhabited residential sections of Derna might cause a health problem.

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