Aid Trickles Into Libya, but Flood Damage Hampers Relief Efforts

Aid trickled into eastern Libya on Wednesday, where more than 5,000 people have been killed by catastrophic flooding in recent days. But with roads and bridges damaged and closed, access to the worst-hit Mediterranean city of Derna remains a major hurdle to getting aid, international aid groups said.

Thousands of people are still believed to be missing, meaning the death toll is likely to rise further in the coming hours and days.

The flooding occurred after heavy rainfall breached two dams near Derna, a city of nearly 100,000 people. Much of the city was destroyed and entire neighborhoods, including homes, schools and mosques, were swept away by the flooding that started this weekend. The Derna City Council has called for the opening of a maritime passage to the city and for urgent international intervention.

The Libyan Red Crescent, a nonprofit aid organization whose volunteers have helped evacuate residents and is leading search and rescue efforts, posted on its Facebook early Wednesday page that volunteers are searching for a third day for some of the thousands still missing as they search fields, paths and riverbanks.

“No missing persons have been found at this time,” the group said.

The group published a document on its Facebook page with a list of Derna’s survivors. By Wednesday morning, it continued to grow to more than 230 names.

“The support is trickling in. We just need more of it,” said Dax Bennet Roque, country director for Libya at the Norwegian Refugee Council. “The response in Libya has been underfunded for so long. There is an urgent need for international assistance.”

He welcomed the United Nations’ announcement that it would release $10 million from its emergency response fund to help people affected by the floods.

On Wednesday it was still unclear how much of the aid – both from Libya and internationally – had arrived in the most affected areas.

Shipments carrying supplies including body bags and medical equipment left the Libyan capital Tripoli, in the western half of the politically divided country, early Tuesday morning for the city of Benghazi, the main eastern city where the Tripoli government said. A medical convoy of doctors, nurses and other rescue volunteers had already arrived in Benghazi on Tuesday morning, it added.

What was needed most was the Tripoli government saidwere rescuers and inspectors and others specialized in dealing with flood situations.

Rescue teams sent by Turkey and the United Arab Emirates arrived in Benghazi on Tuesday, Libyan television channel al-Masar said. But Benghazi is more than 200 miles from Derna by road, and access to the city was cut off by the floods.

“The infrastructure has been destroyed, making it very difficult for medical workers to reach these areas,” said Basheer Omar, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Libya. He added that local authorities had to switch off the electricity grid for fear that people would be electrocuted during the floods.

His organization has sent supplies and technical support to the Libyan Red Crescent, including body bags and personal protective equipment.

“These areas are completely closed off, there are no telephones, no food, no electricity, so the situation is really dire in these areas,” he said. “It is beyond the capabilities of the authorities in Libya, so Libya needs the support of the international community.”

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