Most of the deaths in flash floods that hit Libya on Sunday could have been avoided if Libya had a properly functioning meteorological service which could have put out warnings as storm Daniel headed across the Mediterranean Sea, The International Committee of the Red Cross, a United Nations agency, has said.
The North African country now has two rival governments, and as a result many services are not fully functional in the war-torn country.
The water was brought by Storm Daniel which hit Libya on Sunday.
The storm – a Mediterranean hurricane-like system known as a medicane – brought more than 400mm of rain to parts of the north-east coast within a 24-hour period.
Libya’s National Meteorological Centre says it is a new rainfall record.
At least 5,300 people have died in Libya and thousands more are feared missing after entire buildings were “wiped out” when a seven-meter wave, described by some observers as a “tsunami” hit the northern coastal city of Derna, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday.
The unprecedented rainfall engulfed cities in the North African nation last week, rupturing two dams in the country’s northeast and sending a deluge of water to Derna, which has seen the worst of the devastation.
“Of course, we cannot fully avoid economic losses but we could’ve also minimized those losses by having proper services in place,” Talaas added.
Talaas said the WMO has tried to interact with Libyan officials on improving these mechanisms, but because the “security situation in the country is so difficult, it is difficult to go there.”
Libya has been riven by political turmoil since civil war erupted in 2014, and now has two rival governments. Each is reporting conflicting numbers for victims following the catastrophic floods in the country.
While the eastern parliament-backed government reported at least 5,300 people dead, the internationally recognized government in Tripoli reports more than 6,000 people have died. CNN is unable to independently verify the number of deaths or those missing.
The head of the ICRC’s Libya delegation said it will take “many months, maybe years,” for residents in Derna to recover from the scale of damage, after a seven-meter wave thrashed the northern coastal city this week.
“This disaster was violent and brutal. A wave 7 metres 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,” Yann Fridez said.
“It will take many months, maybe years, for residents to recover from this huge level of damage.”
The ICRC had a team in Derna to support families with micro-economic activities when the floodwaters overwhelmed the city, adding it will distribute 6,000 body bags to forensic teams in the eastern city of Benghazi to “ensure dignified treatment of the dead.”
Access to the flood-hit areas remains a “major challenge” because roads were destroyed, the ICRC said.
Libya’s former minister Health Minister Reida El Oakley told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday that “a huge wave, as high as a six-story building or higher, swept the whole country as a single wave tsunami.”
Khaled Al-Shuwaihed, a Libyan citizen, said the situation in Derna “was a catastrophe.”
“It was a catastrophe, all of my friends are dead,” al-Shuwaihed told Reuters on Thursday.
“One of my friends at the very beginning was filming from the top of the valley, my friend, he was filming, he died. Someone named Nasir Fatoury and his children (are said to be dead) but these are all rumors at this point, nothing has been confirmed. One of my friends and his five children, only one of them found us.”
Medical volunteers said they were overwhelmed by the scale of human disaster in Derna, as aid slowly began to arrive on Thursday amid fears of waterborne diseases.
More than 30,000 people have been displaced in Derna, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Wednesday. Meanwhile bodies piled up near defunct health facilities, despite the need to treat survivors of the disaster.
Khaled Hamid, the general manager at a Libyan NGO, said aid donations were inadequate for the number of people needing treatment.
“The first step was easy, we collected money from equipments and donations from inside and outside the organization. We didn’t expect that people would sympathize with us to this extent, and thank God we received very good support,” Hamid told Reuters.
“This is a drop in the ocean of the needs we need for Derna, but we saw while coming here that people are coming here from different cities of Libya, from Misrata, Tripoli, Zawiya, from every city.”
On Thursday, the marine port into Derna became accessible for ships with a minimum draft level of 6.5 meters to deliver humanitarian aid to the badly damaged area, the Libyan Ports and Maritime Transport Authority said.
Sources: CNN, BBC, International Red Cross, news agencies.