The bodies made unrecognizable by the disaster

By | September 18, 2023

Warning: This story contains details that some readers may find distressing

A masked doctor bends into a black plastic body bag and gently manipulates the legs of the man inside. “First we determine age, sex and length,” he explains.

“It’s rotting now, because of the water.”

In the car park of a hospital in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, the final details of one of his many victims are carefully checked and recorded.

This is now one of the most vital jobs here, and one of the most painful. The man is unrecognizable after spending a week at sea. His body washed ashore that morning.

Expert hands gently probe the identifying marks and a DNA swab is taken. This is important, in case there is a family still alive who can claim him.

The BBC's Anna Foster speaks to doctors and those involved in rescue operations in Libya

Libya’s internationally recognized government says more than a quarter of Derna’s buildings have been damaged or destroyed by last week’s catastrophic flooding.

According to data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 10,000 people are officially missing.

The Red Crescent has issued its own numbers.

According to the UN, the death toll so far is around 11,300. The final total is unclear, although the only thing that is certain is the scale of this catastrophe.

Mohammed Miftah knows in his heart that his family is among the victims.

When he went to visit his sister and her husband in their home after the flood, the house had been swept away.

He hasn’t heard from her since. He shows me a video she took as the creek rose, with brown water coming in through her front door.

A car carried by the current wedges itself in the open space, blocking it completely.

“I saw the cars coming down and I came out running,” he recalls.

“I thought this was it, that I was going to die. We could see our neighbors waving their flashlights. Within moments, the lights went out and they were gone.

“That was the hardest thing.”

Sabrine Ferhat Bellil, who said she lost her brother, his wife and five of her children when the deadly storm hit her town, reacts as she stands in the rubble next to her brother's destroyed home, where she hopes to find the their bodies to be buried, in Derna

Sabrine Ferhat Bellil lost her brother, his wife and five of her children when a deadly storm hit her town

As international aid begins to arrive in earnest, the health minister of the eastern Libyan government announced that four Greek rescue workers were killed in an accident on the road to Derna.

Fifteen others were injured. They were about to join teams already on site from France and Italy.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia also sent tons of extra supplies.

Mohammed Miftah

Mohammed Miftah fears that some of his family members are among the victims

The next step is to make sure they are used correctly and equitably.

Abdullah Bathily, head of the United Nations International Support Mission in Libya, told BBC Arabic that the country must now create a transparent mechanism to manage all its international donations.

It’s a concern born of the well-known coordination challenges between the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and the government in eastern Libya, which is not.

A destroyed car lies on the roof of a residential building following deadly floods in Dern

A wrecked car lies on the roof of a residential building following deadly floods in Derna

Returning to the center of Derna there are some points of light among the mud and rubble that have enveloped this city.

On a street corner, hundreds of colorful clothes lie scattered in piles.

A huge queue forms across the road as fuel is distributed to the survivors.

As donations continue to arrive, a man arrives and places a box of warm scarves at the feet of an elderly woman.

He kisses her head tenderly, as she smiles and begins to choose one.

These are Libyans helping Libyans in one of their worst moments of crisis.

People help each other by donating clothes to Derna

The International Organization for Migration estimates that the number of people displaced by floods in eastern Libya is 38,000 – 30,000 in Derna alone

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