JEDDAH: Fears grew on Friday of a cholera outbreak in the flood-ravaged city of Derna in eastern Libya as rescue workers struggled to cope with thousands of corpses washing up from the sea or decaying under rubble.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said Libya needed equipment to find people trapped in sludge and damaged buildings, primary health care to prevent disease. “Priority areas are shelter, food, key primary medical care because of the worry of cholera, the worry of lack of clean water,” he said.
Swathss of Derna were obliterated by flooding on Sunday night that brought down whole buildings while families were asleep.
Griffiths said that a suggestion by the mayor of Derna to create a maritime corridor to deliver aid could be a viable option since the city is on the Mediterranean Sea.
“You still keep coming in from the land, you’re finding the people who are fleeing south, fleeing south from Derna, toward aid, away from the cities, so you need to support them as well,” he said. “But certainly, adding the maritime option makes complete sense."”
The World Health Organization and other aid groups called on authorities in Libya to stop burying flood victims in mass graves, which could bring long-term mental distress to families and could be a health risk if located near water.
A UN report said more than 1,000 people had so far been buried in that manner since Sunday.
Up to 20,000 were killed in the storm floods after two dams gave way, and thousands more are missing.
“Bodies are littering the streets, washing back on shore and are buried under collapsed buildings and debris. In just two hours, one of my colleagues counted over 200 bodies on the beach near Derna,” said Bilal Sablouh of the Red Cross.
Ibrahim Al-Arabi, health minister in Libya’s Tripoli-based government in the west, said groundwater was polluted with water mixed up with corpses of people, dead animals, refuse and chemical substances. “We urge people not to approach the wells in Derna,” he said.
Mohammad Al-Qabisi, head of Wahda Hospital in Derna, said a field hospital was treating people with chronic illnesses needing regular attention. He said there were fears waterborne diseases would spread but no cholera cases had been recorded so far.
“We should be afraid of an epidemic,” said 60-year-old Nouri Mohamed at a bakery that was offering free loaves to help Derna’s shattered community. “There are still bodies underground ... now there are corpses starting to smell.”