As many as one in five residents died as devastating floods tore apart this Libyan port, officials feared. The death toll in Derna has already hit 11,300 – and it is believed that another 8,700 bodies may lie buried in the rubble.
Experts from UN climate agency the World Meteorological Organisation said that Libya had failed to act on its warnings.
WMO director-general Petteri Taalas said early action “could have avoided most” of the casualties. The disaster came as two dams burst in Derna after Storm Daniel dropped a year’s worth of rain on Sunday.
The UN body said that alerts had been sounded 72 hours before the dams broke and it had contacted Libyan authorities.
A day before the storm, Derna’s mayor said areas near the dams should be evacuated – but an emergency committee set up by officials ordered a curfew instead.
Libya’s PM Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh has ordered public prosecutors to probe if negligence made the toll worse. The storm also killed 170 in the eastern towns of Bayda, Susa and Marj.
Rescue workers fear that diseases will now run rife in ruined areas where foul floodwater is hiding rotting bodies. The corpses of victims who were washed out to sea are floating back to shore up to 60 miles away.
READ MORE: Devastating before and after pictures from Libya show a city swept to sea
Elie Abouaoun, the International Rescue Committee’s country director for Libya, said: “Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities will be required to prevent a further crisis within a crisis.”
Derna’s mayor Abdulmonem al-Ghaithi appealed for more body bags and corpse-recovery teams as local officials tried to bury as many of the dead as quickly as possible to avoid infection breaking out.
The aftermath of the flood was described as a deeply “shocking” catastrophe that is “unimaginable in its consequences” by top UN official Martin Griffiths.
The under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs added that the catastrophe was “a massive reminder of climate and its presence”. Mr Griffiths expected the capacity of nations to deal with such challenges would be “stretched to the limit”.
He said a disaster co-ordination team had been sent from earthquake-hit Morocco to Libya.
Mr Griffiths said a decade of civil war in the North African country had contributed to the impact of the flood as “300,000 people already needed aid” before the dams failed.
The UN has launched an appeal for more than £57million to help victims of the flood.
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