UN says “extent of the problem” in flood-hit Libya remains unclear

The United Nations has raised concerns about the situation in the flood-ravaged areas of Libya, citing civil strife as a main hindrance to aid efforts and calling on the fighting sides to put aside political deadlocks and divisions.

Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said on Friday that the extent of the catastrophe in flood-ravaged areas is unclear as the country is divided between two rival authorities.

“I think the issue for us in Libya is of course coordinating with… the government and then the other authority in the east of the country,”  Griffiths said, adding: “We don’t know the extent of the problem.”

In the meantime, emergency workers continue sifting through the mud and rubble of the flood-hit areas in the hope of finding survivors.

The Red Cross chief in the country said on Friday that they still have hope of finding more survivors.

“The hope is there, is always there, to find people alive,” said Tamer Ramadan, the head of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent’s rescue effort in the North African country.

Emergency teams have 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, killing at least 4,000 people.

The enormous surge of water burst two upstream dams late on Sunday and reduced Derna to an apocalyptic wasteland where entire city blocks and untold numbers of people were washed into the Mediterranean.

“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 Center.

“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.”

“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 meters 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,” he said.

The floods were caused by hurricane-strength Storm Daniel, compounded by the poor infrastructure that existed in the area.

The United Nations, describing Libya’s situation as “catastrophic”, launched an appeal for more than $71 million to respond to the “most urgent needs of 250,000 people targeted out of the 884,000 people estimated to be in need”.

Climate experts have linked the disaster to the impacts of global warming, combined with Libya’s decaying infrastructure.

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