DERNA, Libya – The death toll in Libya's eastern city of Derna has exceeded 11,300 due to dam collapses and floods. Recovery efforts are still ongoing as more bodies wash ashore, and thousands of people are still unaccounted for, the secretary-general of the Libyan Red Crescent said.
The "sea is constantly dumping dozens of bodies", Hichem Abu Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation in the administration that runs eastern Libya, told Reuters.
Torental rains from Storm Daniel overwhelmed multiple dams near town, causing their collapse and a massive wall of water to sweep through Derna on Sunday. Homes, vehicles, and debris have been swept away, causing widespread destruction.
"The best way of describing it is like a mini-tsunami completely washing away everything in its path," Islamic Relief’s Salah Aboulgasem told Al Jazeera. "Complete families have been wiped out … some of these buildings were completely taken away by the water."
The Red Crescent reported that the "tsunami" wave was 22 feet high.
Health authorities previously put the death toll in Derna at 5,500 and warned it would "double, if not quadruple," Aboulgasem said after at least 30% of the city "completely disappeared." At least 10,000 people were still missing in the city at last check.
"This gives you an indication of the limited infrastructure in Libya. The storm hit Greece as well as Libya. But in Greece, there were six deaths and in Libya 6,000," Aboulgasem added.
The country's recent history of war is now slowing recovery and rescue efforts.
"We are also evaluating the risk posed by unexploded ordnance and abandoned munition stores in Derna," aid agency ICRC wrote on X. "An additional challenge to residents, emergency responders and authorities now working to alleviate the hardship."
Aboulgasem said multi-generational families living there are saying in Arabic it’s like "doomsday."
"Bodies are everywhere, inside houses, in the streets, at sea. Wherever you go, you find dead men, women, and children," Emad al-Falah, an aid worker from Benghazi, said to the Associated Press over the phone from Derna. "Entire families were lost."
The latest fatality statistics were issued by the Ministry of the Interior, the Libyan News Agency reports.
The International Organization for Migration in Libya has issued a warning that although the exact number of deaths is still unknown, there are reports that over 30,000 people might have been forced to leave their homes in Derna. Furthermore, an additional 6,000 individuals have been displaced in other areas affected by the storm, including Benghazi.
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Access to clean water is limited
Fears of waterborne diseases now arise as damaged sanitation and hygiene infrastructure heightens the risk. The situation is critical, warns the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
"Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities will be required to prevent a further crisis within a crisis," IRC Libya Country Director Elie Abouaoun said.
Aid agencies said they are facing challenges reaching victims in Derna, as well as Sousse, Shahat, AlMarj, Al Bayada and rural communities in remote areas due to damage to roads and bridges.
Phone lines in affected areas are down, making rescue operations extremely difficult.
On Wednesday, Abouaoun urgently called for international assistance to address the catastrophic humanitarian crisis unfolding in Libya after whole neighborhoods washed away.
"Urgent emergency shelter is needed for those unable to return to their homes, and psychosocial support for those who have seen their lives literally washed away," he said.
Many medical services have been affected, Abouaoun added, leading to the evacuation of patients to other cities, including those cities that were also impacted. Numerous clinics and hospitals in the area have become overwhelmed and are operating beyond their capacities.
The Libyan Ministry of Health said more than 130 ambulances traveled to Derna on Wednesday to search for survivors and support field hospitals in the city.
"Ambulances are in need of repair, physical access challenges and needs for logistical support are making it difficult for health volunteers to reach affected areas," Abouaoun said.
Images taken by satellites provided by Planet Labs have captured before-and-after photos of Derna after the impact of Daniel. These images, taken from Sept. 2-12, show the collapse and sweeping away of several dams, bridges, and buildings, which resulted in the submergence of a quarter of the city.
Pope Francis offered a prayer Wednesday afternoon from the Vatican for the flooding victims.
"Let us pray together for those who lost their lives in an inundation in Libya, for their families and for the displaced," the supreme pontiff said. "May we not fail to show our solidarity with these brothers and sisters, as well as with the people of Morocco who are suffering from an earthquake."