(LONDON) — The death toll from devastating floods in eastern Libya has surpassed 11,000, according to the Libyan Red Crescent, as rescuers work to understand the full scope of the disaster.
As of Saturday, the bodies of nearly 4,000 people have been recovered and identified, the World Health Organization said. More than 9,000 people are still missing, according to the WHO, which is working with the Libyan Ministry of Health to track the dead and missing.
“This is a disaster of epic proportions,” Dr. Ahmed Zouiten, a WHO representative in Libya, said in a statement.
The Libyan Red Crescent said Friday that at least 11,300 people have died and another 10,100 were reported missing. A Red Crescent official told ABC News it was difficult to give an accurate tally of deaths.
“Bodies are washing up on the shore every minute, on beaches as far as 150 km away,” Ahmed Al-Hadl, the head of aid in the port city of Derna for the Red Crescent, said.
Eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel, meanwhile said Friday the number of recorded deaths stood at 3,166.
Mediterranean storm Daniel is behind the widespread flooding in the North African nation, as it washed away entire neighborhoods over the weekend and swept bodies out to sea.
Derna was the worst affected following the collapse of two dams, which wiped out a quarter of the area. Libya’s chief prosecutor announced late Friday he has ordered an investigation into the collapse of the dams — and whether better maintenance could have avoided the disaster.
Derna has been declared a disaster zone, with electricity and communication having been cut off, according to local officials. The head of Libya’s eastern parliament-backed government Osama Hamad told reporters Friday evening that authorities would take precautionary measures that might include sealing off the city of Derna for fear of the spread of diseases.
An assessment team visiting Derna on Thursday said people were returning to what was left of their homes in desperation.
“What I saw there is … the situation is devastating … a lot of destruction and ruins, around 25% of the city was basically destroyed as a result of the flooding,” Talal Burnaz, the acting country director in Libya for the International Medical Corps, told ABC News.
“Whenever you see a search and rescue team you will see families standing there with tears in their eyes asking for support and hoping that they will basically find one of their family members alive,” Burnaz said.
Burnaz said they were still pulling people out of the rubble Thursday. He saw one rescue and heard of four more when he visited the last remaining government-run hospital in Derna. The survivors had been trapped under rubble since the early hours of Monday morning.
Some help is getting through the one road that leads to the devastated areas. Burnaz saw international search and rescue teams — from Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Spain — and he drove past convoys of help coming from all over Libya.
“There were many local authorities there — army, police, scouts, Libyan Red Cross — trying to retrieve either bodies or trying to find survivors under the rubble,” Burnaz said.
The WHO said Saturday that 29 metric tons of health supplies arrived in Benghazi, Libya, from the WHO Global Logistics Hub in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The supplies include medicines, trauma and emergency surgery supplies, and medical equipment, as well as body bags.
Doctors Without Borders dispatched an emergency team from Misrata to Derna that arrived Thursday to assess the needs in the aftermath of storm Daniel, despite challenging conditions as the city was split in two between east and west by the flooding.
The group’s medical coordinator for Libya said the situation is chaotic with volunteers coming from everywhere in Libya to help, leaving an enormous need for coordination.
“There are no dead bodies in the street anymore, no wounded that we can see in the hospital,” Manoelle Carton, Doctors Without Borders’ medical coordinator for Libya, said Friday. “It’s more the day-to-day health needs that are coming up again — chronic diseases. We can clearly identify a huge need in mental health support. Everybody is asking for it, from people in the streets, to the medical doctors that assisted people, from the people who saw the events, to the people who lost their entire families.”
Carton said the emergency team, comprising a logistician and three medical staff, began assessing primary health centers in the city on Friday.
“We visited three health centers in the west — one is not active because almost all of the medical staff died. The two other health centers are active with volunteer doctors from Tripoli, but they are asking for support — mainly for mental health to support people coming to the center,” Carton said.
Carton said the situation of internally displaced people is still unclear, saying the group identified a space in the west of Tripoli with about 3,000 displaced people, but there are more sheltering in the homes of friends and colleagues.
In Derna, those who have lost their homes are being housed in municipal buildings like schools and universities, according to Burnaz.
“If you see the amount of destruction and the area that’s been destroyed — it’s big. You can see cars in the third and fourth floors of the building stuck there … it was massive, like something never seen before,” Burnaz said.
A number of countries have vowed to send aid to Libya, but getting the supplies into the affected areas has proven difficult with many roads blocked and bridges destroyed. Rescue efforts have also been hampered by the current political situation in Libya, with the oil-rich country split between two warring governments — one in the east and the other in the west.
Libya’s National Center of Meteorology reported that more than 16 inches of rain fell in the northeastern city of Bayda within a 24-hour period to Sunday, according to the flood tracking website Floodlist.
The head of the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, said Thursday that most of Libya’s flooding casualties could have been avoided if the divided country had a functioning meteorological service.
In a statement, Taalas said that Libya’s National Meteorological Center did issue early warnings for heavy precipitation and floods, but they didn’t address the “risk posed by the aging dams.”
ABC News’ Will Gretsky contributed to this report.
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