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Libyan city divided to prevent epidemics after floods

DERNA, Libya (AP) — Authorities have divided the flood-hit Libyan town of Derna into four sections to create buffers in case of outbreaks, the prime minister of Libya’s eastern administration said Tuesday , a day after thousands of angry protesters demanded a rapid withdrawal from the city. reconstruction.

LEARN MORE: Officials warn outbreak could worsen Libya’s flooding crisis

Last week, two dams collapsed during Mediterranean Storm Daniel, causing a wall of water to gush across Derna. Government officials and humanitarian agencies have reported the death toll ranging from around 4,000 to 11,000, with thousands more missing.

“Now that the affected areas are completely isolated, the armed forces and the government have started to create a buffer zone for fear of the spread of diseases or epidemics,” Prime Minister Ossama Hamad said in a telephone interview with the Saudi television channel Al-Arabiya. No further details were given.

According to local media, the internet went down in the east of the country on Tuesday morning.

The United Nations warned Monday that an outbreak could create “a devastating second crisis.”

Libyan protesters gathered in central Derna on Monday for the first mass demonstration since the floods. Outside the city’s al-Shabana mosque, thousands of people called for a speedy investigation into the disaster, urgent reconstruction of the city and other demands. On Monday evening, the city’s former mayor, Abdel-Moneim al-Gaithi, said his house had been set on fire by protesters.

The prosecution opened an investigation on Saturday into the collapse of the two dams, built in the 1970s, as well as the allocation of funds for their maintenance. The same day, al Gaithi was suspended pending investigation.

Many city residents see politicians as the architects of the crisis. The country has been divided between rival administrations since 2014. Both are backed by international patrons and armed militias whose influence in the country has exploded since the NATO-backed Arab Spring uprising that toppled autocratic leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

LEARN MORE: Experts have long warned that ‘the consequences would be disastrous’ if Libya’s dams were ignored

Both authorities deployed humanitarian teams to the city, but struggled to respond to the large-scale disaster. The reconstruction operation, with the help of international teams, has been poorly coordinated and residents say the distribution of aid has been uneven.

Contradictory reports and statistics have been published by various official organizations.

Bashir Omar, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Tuesday that search and rescue teams were still recovering bodies from under the rubble of destroyed buildings and from the sea. He told the The Associated Press said the deaths numbered “in the thousands”, but did not give a precise toll for the recovered bodies, explaining that there are numerous groups involved in their collection.

The Libyan Red Crescent said last week that at least 11,300 people had been killed and another 10,000 missing. After reporting the same toll, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs now puts forward much lower figures, i.e. around 4,000 people killed and 9,000 missing.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres began his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday by discussing the tragedy in Libya. “Just nine days ago, many global challenges came together to form a terrible hellscape,” he said. “Thousands of people in Derna, Libya, lost their lives in epic and unprecedented flooding. »

Associated Press writers Jack Jeffery in London and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

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