Death toll reaches 11,300 in Derna flooding as unprecedented aid operation in Libya gears up

Tsunami-sized flash flood hit eastern Libya at the weekend, killing at least 5,000 people, with thousands more missing and feared dead. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 September 2023
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Death toll reaches 11,300 in Derna flooding as unprecedented aid operation in Libya gears up

  • Fears that death toll from flash flood in Derna could reach 20,000
  • Lacking weather forecasting and action on early warnings was large contributor to the size of the disaster

JEDDAH:  An unprecedented aid operation was underway in eastern Libya on Thursday amid fears that the final death toll from a tsunami-sized flash flood could be more than 20,000.

The enormous surge of storm water burst two upstream dams late on Sunday and reduced the city of 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,” said one injured survivor who was swept away with his mother before they managed to cling on to 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.”

Aid has been sent or promised by regional states including Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkiye and the UAE.

The US has also pledged to help, and in Europe the aid effort has been joined by Britain, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and Romania.

Derna Mayor Abdulmenam Al-Ghaithi said deaths in the city could reach 20,000, based on the extent of the damage.

The death toll in Derna is now at 11,300 as search efforts continue following a massive flood fed by the breaching of two dams in heavy rains.

Marie El-Drese, secretary-general of Libyan Red Crescent, said that a further 10,100 are reported missing.

The World Meteorological Organization said the huge death toll could have been avoided if Libya, a failed state for more than a decade, had a functioning weather agency.

“They could have issued warnings,” Secretary-General Petteri Taalashe said. “The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out evacuation of the people. And we could have avoided most of the human casualties.”

The WMO said earlier this week that the National Meteorological Center had issued warnings 72 hours before the flooding, notifying all governmental authorities by email and through media.

Daniel, an unusually strong Mediterranean storm, caused deadly flooding in towns across eastern Libya, but the worst-hit was Derna. As the storm pounded the coast Sunday night, residents said they heard loud explosions when two dams outside the city collapsed.

Floodwaters gushed down Wadi Derna, a valley that cuts through the city, crashing through buildings and washing people out to sea.

Mohamed Al-Menfi, head of the three-member council that is Libya’s internationally recognized government, said anyone whose failure to act was responsible for the failure of the dam should be held accountable.

Officials in eastern Libya warned the public about the coming storm and on Saturday had ordered residents to evacuate areas along the coast, fearing a surge from the sea. But there was no warning about the dams collapsing.

The startling devastation reflected the storm’s intensity, but also Libya’s vulnerability. Oil-rich Libya has been divided between rival governments for most of the past decade — one in the east, the other in the capital, Tripoli — and one result has been widespread neglect of infrastructure.

The two dams that collapsed outside Derna were built in the 1970s. A report by a state-run audit agency in 2021 said the dams had not been maintained despite the allocation of more than 2 million euros for that purpose in 2012 and 2013.

Libya’s Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah acknowledged the maintenance issues in a Cabinet meeting Thursday and called on the Public Prosecutor to open an urgent investigation into the dams’ collapse.

The disaster brought a rare moment of unity, as government agencies across the country rushed to help the affected areas.

While the Tobruk-based government of east Libya is leading relief efforts, the Tripoli-based western government allocated the equivalent of $412 million for reconstruction in Derna and other eastern towns, and an armed group in Tripoli sent a convoy with humanitarian aid.

Derna has begun burying its dead, mostly in mass graves, said eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel earlier Thursday.

More than 3,000 bodies were buried by Thursday morning, the minister said, while another 2,000 were still being processed, He said most of the dead were buried in mass graves outside Derna, while others were transferred to nearby towns and cities.

Abduljaleel said rescue teams were still searching wrecked buildings in the city center, and divers were combing the sea off Derna.

Untold numbers could be buried under drifts of mud and debris, including overturned cars and chunks of concrete, that rise up to four meters (13 feet) high. Rescuers have struggled to bring in heavy equipment as the floods washed out or blocked roads leading to the area.

Libya’s eastern based parliament, The House of Representatives, approved Thursday an emergency budget of 10 billion Libyan dinars — roughly $2 billion — to address the flooding and help those affected.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN KILLED?
As of Thursday, the Libyan Red Crescent said that 11,300 people have been killed, and a further 10,100 are reported missing.
However, local officials suggested that the death toll could be much higher than announced.

In comments to the Saudi-owned Al Arabia television station on Thursday, Derna Mayor Abdel-Moneim Al-Ghaithi said the tally could climb to 20,000 given the number of neighborhoods that were washed out.

The storm also killed around 170 people in other parts of eastern Libya, including the towns of Bayda, Susa, Um Razaz and Marj, the health minister said.

The dead in eastern Libya included at least 84 Egyptians, who were transferred to their home country on Wednesday. More than 70 came from one village in the southern province of Beni Suef. Libyan media also said dozens of Sudanese migrants were killed in the disaster.

IS HELP REACHING SURVIVORS?
The floods have also displaced at least 30,000 people in Derna, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, and several thousand others were forced to leave their homes in other eastern towns, it said.

The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to Derna, hampering the arrival of international rescue teams and humanitarian assistance. Local authorities were able to clear some routes, and over the past 48 hours humanitarian convoys have been able to enter the city.

The UN humanitarian office issued an emergency appeal for $71.4 million to respond to urgent needs of 250,000 Libyans most affected. The humanitarian office, known as OCHA, estimated that approximately 884,000 people in five provinces live in areas directly affected by the rain and flooding.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it has provided 6,000 body bags to local authorities, as well as medical, food and other supplies distributed to hard-hit communities.

International aid started to arrive earlier this week in Benghazi, 250 kilometers (150 miles) west of Derna. Several countries have sent aid and rescue teams, including neighboring Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia. Italy dispatched a naval vessel on Thursday carrying humanitarian aid and two navy helicopters to be used for search and rescue operations.

President Joe Biden said the United States would send money to relief organizations and coordinate with Libyan authorities and the United Nations to provide additional support.


Israeli strikes target Lebanon’s Baalbek for first time since Gaza war

Updated 26 February 2024
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Israeli strikes target Lebanon’s Baalbek for first time since Gaza war

  • The strikes are among the deepest into Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began more than four months ago
  • Israel’s air force carried out three airstrikes on the outskirts of the village of Buday, near Baalbek, targeting a convoy of trucks

BEIRUT: The Israeli military said Monday its air force was striking targets of the militant Hebollah group “deep inside Lebanon,” where residents reported explosions near the northeastern city of Baalbek.
The strikes are among the deepest into Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began more than four months ago. They come a day after Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to step up attacks on Lebanon’s Hezbollah even if a cease-fire is reached with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Lebanese security officials said Israel’s air force carried out three airstrikes on the outskirts of the village of Buday, near Baalbek, targeting a convoy of trucks. Buday is a Hezbollah stronghold. There was no immediate word on casualties.
A Hezbollah official confirmed that three strikes hit near Baalbek. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The Israeli army said further details will follow.
The airstrikes near Baalbek came hours after Hezbollah said its fighters on Monday shot down an Israeli drone over its stronghold in a province in southern Lebanon. Anotehr missile fired by Hezbollah toward the drone was intercepted by Israel, and landed near a synagogue in a town close to Nazareth in northern Israel. There were no injuries or damage.
Hezbollah has been exchanging fire with Israeli troops along the border since the Israel-Hamas broke on Oct. 7.
The strike on Baalbek, because of its location deep inside Lebanon, is the most significant one since the early January airstrike on Beirut that killed top Hamas official Saleh Arouri.
Hezbollah, which has been exchanging fire with Israel throughout the war in Gaza, has said it will halt its nearly daily attacks on Israel if a cease-fire is reached in Gaza.


Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Updated 26 February 2024
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Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

  • Move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up Palestinian Authority
  • Shtayyeh says he is resigning to allow broader consensus among Palestinians following Israel’s war on Gaza

RAMALLAH: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements following Israel’s war against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority as international efforts have intensified to stop the fighting in Gaza and begin work on a political structure to govern the enclave after the war.
His resignation must still be accepted by Abbas, who may ask him to stay on as caretaker until a permanent replacement is appointed.
In a statement to cabinet, Shtayyeh, an academic economist who took office in 2019, said the next stage would need to take account of the emerging reality in Gaza, which has been laid waste by nearly five months of heavy fighting.
He said the next stage would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.”
In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority, formed 30 years ago under the interim Oslo peace accords, exercises limited governance over parts of the occupied West Bank but lost power in Gaza following a struggle with Hamas in 2007.
Fatah, the faction that controls the PA, and Hamas have made efforts to reach an agreement over a unity government and are due to meet in Moscow on Wednesday. A senior Hamas official said the move had to be followed by a broader agreement on governance for the Palestinians.
“The resignation of Shtayyeh’s government only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus on arrangements for the next phase,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.


UAE floating hospital begins operations at Al-Arish to treat Palestinian patients

Updated 26 February 2024
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UAE floating hospital begins operations at Al-Arish to treat Palestinian patients

AL-ARISH: A floating hospital provided by the UAE, anchored in Egypt’s Port city of Al-Arish, commenced operations on Sunday to provide treatment for injured Palestinians.

The initiative is a part of the UAE’s “Gallant Knight 3” humanitarian operation.

The 100-bed hospital has operating rooms, an intensive care unit, radiology section, laboratory and pharmacy, state news agency WAM reported.

A 20-year-old Palestinian man was the first to undergo surgery at the hospital. He was treated for a gunshot wound to the shoulder and injuries caused by shrapnel.

Doctors repositioned his shoulder, and he will require a follow-up operation to repair nerve damage.

The floating hospital was established in cooperation with the Department of Health - Abu Dhabi and AD Ports Group. It is being staffed by 100 medical workers who are skilled in anesthesia, general surgery, orthopedics, and emergency medicine.

Dr. Falah Al-Mahmoud, director of the hospital, said the facility would help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians.

Dr. Falah Al-Mahmoud, director of the hospital, said the facility would help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians. (WAM)

 


Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Updated 26 February 2024
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Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

  • Palestinian PM says ‘new political measures’ needed amid Gaza war
  • The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority

RAMALLAH: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements following Israel’s war against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority as international efforts have intensified to stop the fighting in Gaza and begin work on a political structure to govern the enclave after the war.
His resignation must still be accepted by Abbas, who may ask him to stay on as caretaker until a permanent replacement is appointed.
In a statement to cabinet, Shtayyeh, an academic economist who took office in 2019, said the next stage would need to take account of the emerging reality in Gaza, which has been laid waste by nearly five months of heavy fighting.
He said the next stage would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.”
In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority, formed 30 years ago under the interim Oslo peace accords, exercises limited governance over parts of the occupied West Bank but lost power in Gaza following a struggle with Hamas in 2007.
Fatah, the faction that controls the PA, and Hamas have made efforts to reach an agreement over a unity government and are due to meet in Moscow on Wednesday. A senior Hamas official said the move had to be followed by a broader agreement on governance for the Palestinians.
“The resignation of Shtayyeh’s government only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus on arrangements for the next phase,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.


Yemen’s Houthis announce first civilian death in US-UK strikes

Updated 26 February 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis announce first civilian death in US-UK strikes

  • One person was killed and eight wounded a day after US and British forces said they fired on 18 targets
SANAA: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia have reported the first civilian death in US and British air strikes after the latest round of joint raids over the weekend.
One person was killed and eight wounded, the Houthis’ official news agency said late on Sunday, a day after US and British forces said they fired on 18 targets across the country.
The US-British strikes were in response to dozens of Houthi drone and missile attacks on Red Sea shipping since November, which the rebels say are in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.
“The American-British aggression on the district of Maqbana in the governorate of Taiz has left one civilian dead and eight wounded,” the Houthis’ Saba agency said, citing a statement from the rebel-run health ministry.
The Houthis, who control war-torn Yemen’s most populated areas, have previously reported the death of 17 of their fighters in the Western strikes targeting military facilities.
The Houthi attacks have had a significant effect on traffic through the busy Red Sea route, forcing some companies into a two-week detour around southern Africa. Last week, Egypt said Suez Canal revenues were down by up to 50 percent this year.
Washington, Israel’s vital ally, gathered an international coalition in December to protect Red Sea traffic. It has launched several rounds of strikes as well as four joint raids with Britain, which began last month.
The Houthis initially said they were targeting Israel-linked shipping in the Red Sea and adjoining Gulf of Aden, but then declared that US and British interests were also “legitimate” targets.