‘Swept into the sea’: Heartbreak of man who lost 32 family members in Libya floods as death toll could reach 20,000

Family members of those swept away by Libya's catastrophic floods fear they will never find the bodies of their loved ones amid warnings of a final death toll of 20,000.

Hamdi Burwag, who lost 32 relatives in the storm, told the story The Independent Local officials warned that the death toll could easily reach that figure, with nearly 7,000 confirmed killed and at least 10,000 people reported missing.

Much of Mr Burwag's family was in the Mediterranean town of Derna when it was devastated by a flood of water from the powerful Storm Daniel, which rushed down dry riverbeds and destroyed several nearby dams.

The 60-year-old said his aunt's entire family was killed instantly, including several children, as their house was “washed miles out to sea”. He said there were concerns that rotting bodies trapped beneath the destroyed buildings and in the mud could spark an epidemic of disease as days pass.

The international community has moved to offer support to the war-ravaged country: the United Kingdom announced an initial aid package worth one million pounds on Wednesday afternoon.

“My family members were sleeping at 3am when the water swept their entire building into the sea. “A quarter of Derna has been washed away,” Mr Burwag said as he drove an aid convoy to the worst-hit areas.

The flooding has resulted in at least 10,000 people being reported missing

(Hamdi Burwag)

“I spoke to my cousins ​​who survived. They said there were bodies trapped under the rubble and bodies washed into the sea. There are great efforts to recover these souls, but it will not be possible to catch them all.

“The leaders of this country do not have emergency measures in place for a catastrophic event of this magnitude,” he added.

Mr. Burwag sent The Independent Photos taken by his son from downtown. In them, the force of the water had carried away cars and trapped them between trees and buildings. The water had also leveled entire warehouses and torn huge holes in buildings.

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He said there are concerns that the next threat on the horizon is disease.

An area of ​​Derna as floodwaters recede

(Hamdi Burwag)

“We try to do what we can. I work with the Boy Scouts to bring medicine, groceries, milk and anything we can get our hands on to the city,” Mr. Burwag added.

A member of the Libyan security forces deployed to Derna, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the devastation was so great “that it cannot even be expressed in words.”

Akram, a member of General Haftar's Libyan National Army, lost two family members and several friends in the flooding and was in charge of evacuating citizens in a suburb of Derna.

“I see the ruin, the destruction, the misery and the smell of death. “Derna is a dead city now,” Akram said. “At least four districts were just destroyed.”

“We are distributing relief supplies to people who have been evacuated. They live everywhere in makeshift shelters, schools, private homes and social facilities,” he said.

According to the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of people, including many children, were affected by the disaster in the coastal towns of Bayda, Marj and Derna.

Those responsible for Libya “do not have emergency measures in place” to deal with the damage

(Hamdi Burwag)

According to the UN children's fund Unicef, at least 20,000 displaced people are currently being housed in schools, while around 7,000 remain stuck in remote areas.

The international community, meanwhile, is scrambling to answer calls for help from Libya, a country wracked by conflict and feuding armed factions since the overthrow and death of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Nations from the United States to Italy to the United Arab Emirates have sent planeloads of food, medical supplies and shelter tents.

The UK announced a £1m aid package on Wednesday, which the Foreign Office said was an “initial aid package”.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “The UK is committed to supporting Libya in the wake of these devastating floods.”

“The funding announced today will provide life-saving assistance to those most affected by the floods, including women and children and those displaced from their homes.”

However, rescue operations are complicated by deep political divisions in the country of seven million, which remains divided between two hostile governments. An internationally recognized Government of National Unity (GNU) is based in Tripoli in the west, while a parallel government, including Derna, operates in the east.