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Libya floods: appeals for body bags amid fears of disease ‘epidemic’20,000 feared dead

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Rescue workers in the devastated Libyan city of Derna have appealed for more body bags, after a catastrophic flood killed thousands of people and swept many out to sea.

International aid is slowly starting to reach the port city after Storm Daniel hit the northern coast of Libya on Saturday night. As many as 20,000 people are feared to have died.

“We actually need teams specialised in recovering bodies,” said the mayor of Derna, Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi. “I fear that the city will be infected with an epidemic due to the large number of bodies under the rubble and in the water.” Lutfi al-Misrati, a search team director, told Al Jazeera: “We need bags for the bodies.”

Earlier, Hichem Abu Chkiouat, the minister of civil aviation in the administration that runs eastern Libya, said the “sea is constantly dumping dozens of bodies”. Sea patrols were working along the coast trying to locate washed-up bodies, many of which were being taken to Tobruk for potential identification.

“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, told the Associated Press over the phone from Derna. “Entire families were lost.”

Such was the need to bury the bodies to avoid the spread of disease that hundreds were being buried collectively in one grave. Derna residents have been pleading for a new field hospital as the two existing hospitals in the town have become makeshift morgues.

Rescue teams have arrived from Egypt, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Qatar, mayor al-Ghaithi said. Turkey is also sending a ship carrying equipment to set up two field hospitals and 148 medical staff to help with the rescue efforts. The UK on Wednesday announced an initial aid package of up to £1m.

The UN-recognised government of national unity based in Tripoli said on Wednesday that 12 countries had sent aid and rescue teams to Libya. Its Facebook page said the aid included rescue and recovery teams, tracker dogs, field hospitals, medical crews, thermal sensing devices, diving and water suction teams, food supplies, shelter materials, and ships and planes to help in the recovery process.

The death toll in the city could reach 18,000 to 20,000 based on the number of districts destroyed by the flood, Al-Ghaithi told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

The victims of the flood include dozens of Egyptian migrants whose bodies arrived on Wednesday in Beni Suef, about 110km (68 miles) south of Cairo, Egyptian media reported. There is concern that Derna and neighbouring Sousse, because of their proximity to Italy and Greece, were hubs for thousands of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, and many of them will have been in poor housing close to the port.

Aid agencies have been battling to reach Derna, the city of just more than 100,000 people, hampered by the destruction of roads. Helicopters were required, mainly provided by Egypt.

Mohamed Eljarh, a Libyan journalist travelling to Derna, said rescuers had yet to reach some parts of the city, especially in the east, as well as the nearby coastal town of Sousse and the municipality of al-Sahel. “Until late last night, there were pleas from some survivors under the rubble,” Eljarh told the Guardian, speaking from the nearby city of Tobruk.

He described the situation in Sousse and surrounding villages as a “new tragic episode”. “Hundreds of homes are buried under mud, debris and water. No help has arrived,” he said. “Other areas have been similarly affected. The death toll is going to be staggering.”

Usama Al Husadi, a 52-year-old driver, has been searching for his wife and five children since the disaster. “I went by foot searching for them … I went to all hospitals and schools but no luck,” he told Reuters, weeping with his head in his hands.

Husadi, who had been working the night of the storm, dialled his wife’s phone number once again. It was switched off. “We lost at least 50 members from my father’s family, between missing and dead,” he said.

“I survived with my wife but I lost my sister,” Mohamed Mohsen Bujmila, a 41-year-old engineer, said. “My sister lives downtown where most of the destruction happened. We found the bodies of her husband and son and buried them.” With Reuters

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