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Libya: Aid groups urge authorities to stop burying flood victims in mass graves due to health risks

A man sits by the graves of the flash flood victims in Derna, Libya, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023
A man sits by the graves of the flash flood victims in Derna, Libya, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023 Copyright Yousef Murad/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Yousef Murad/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AFP
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The WHO has urged authorities in Derna to stop burying flood victims in mass graves, highlighting the potential health risks if located near water and the distress it could cause families.

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 Rescue teams in the coastal city of Derna are still searching for bodies almost a week after a devastating flood killed more than 11,000 people.

Thousands of residents were washed out to sea following the collapse of two dams after extreme rainfall last Sunday. 

According to the Libyan Red Crescent, 10,000 people are still missing. Officials fear thousands of bodies are trapped beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings while countless more continue to wash up on Derna's battered shores.

Six days on, teams are still digging through mud and hollowed-out buildings, looking for possible survivors.

Claire Nicolet, who heads the emergencies department of the Doctors Without Borders aid group, said that rescuers found “a lot of bodies” on Friday and were still searching.

As families bury their dead, the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged authorities in Libya to stop burying flood victims in mass graves, highlighting the spread of waterborne diseases.

Haider al-Saeih, the head of Libya’s Centre for Combating Diseases, said in televised comments Saturday that at least 150 people had suffered from diarrhoea after drinking contaminated water in Derna. He urged residents to only drink bottled water, which is being shipped in as part of relief efforts.

His comments follow the announcement Friday that Libya is launching a probe into the collapse of the two dams. The country's top prosecutor has vowed to look into the role of local authorities and previous governments and has scrutinised the management of the dams’ maintenance funds.

“I reassure citizens that whoever made mistakes or negligence, prosecutors will certainly take firm measures, file a criminal case against him and send him to trial,” General Prosecutor al-Sour said.

Several reports now suggest the structures had cracks as early as 1998 but were never repaired.

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