Libyan official rejects blame for flood disaster

We are trying to not to have a second disaster there. It is critical to prevent a health crisis, to provide shelter, clean water and food

An official in eastern Libya has denied allegations that many of those killed in devastating floods last weekend were told to stay in their homes.

Othman Abdul Jalil, a spokesperson for the Benghazi-based government, told the BBC that soldiers warned people in the city of Derna to flee.

He denied that people were told not to evacuate, but conceded some may have felt the threat was exaggerated.

Meanwhile, BBC teams in Derna say aid agencies are yet to arrive at the city.

While reporters witnessed a hive of activity in the centre of Derna – with rescuers, ambulance crews and forensic teams working to identify the dead – there was little sign of major international aid agencies.

A spokesperson for one organisation said that trying to coordinate aid operations in the country was “a nightmare”.

“Libya one week ago was already complicated,” said Tomasso Della Longa from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Making the situation even more complicated is the fact that the floods have destroyed crucial infrastructure, like roads and telecommunications systems.

Death tolls that have been provided vary from around 6,000 up to 11,000. With many more thousands still missing, Derna’s mayor has warned that the total could reach 20,000.

The BBC has been told that some victims’ bodies have washed ashore more than 100km (60 miles) from Derna, after they were swept out to sea.

A spokesperson for the United Nations’ humanitarian office, Jens Laerke, told the BBC that there were still survivors and dead bodies under the rubble, and that it would be some time before they knew the true number of casualties.

“We are trying to not to have a second disaster there. It is critical to prevent a health crisis, to provide shelter, clean water and food,” he said.

More than 1,000 people have so far been buried in mass graves, according to a UN report.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked disaster workers to stop doing this, because a hasty burial in mass graves can lead to long-lasting mental distress for grieving family members.

Thousands of people were killed when two dams burst in the wake of Storm Daniel on Sunday, washing whole neighbourhoods into the Mediterranean Sea.

Survivors have described terrifying escapes and people being swept away in front of their eyes.

The country’s fragmented political situation is said to be complicating the recovery. Libya is split between two rival governments – with the UN-backed administration based in the capital Tripoli and the rival Egyptian-supported one based in Benghazi.

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