Dozens of humanitarian planes carrying crucial medical and aid supplies landed one after the other at Benina airport in Benghazi on Friday, days after devastating floods left thousands dead.
While the road from the airport to the centre of Benghazi was eerily quiet, activity at the airport was ceaseless, with soldiers from the Libyan National Army co-ordinating the distribution of aid arriving in the country.
The UAE, as of Friday, has sent five planes carrying three rescue teams as well as urgent relief and medical aid as part of the air bridge set up to bring relief to the Libyan people.
The humanitarian aid plane that The National travelled on from Abu Dhabi had among its cargo a large number of medical supplies, including cetirizine hydrochloride tablets, which are used to treat allergic conditions such as skin rashes.
Doctors have warned that there is an increased risk of these as well as waterborne diseases and illnesses spread by mosquitoes following the floods.
“It’s unfortunate that we are finally welcoming many different delegations here in Benghazi at a very difficult time,” a commander of the Libyan National Army told The National.
“We’ve been working non-stop to co-ordinate the relief works arriving almost non-stop daily since the beginning of the week.”
Two dams collapsed amid exceptionally heavy rains during Mediterranean storm Daniel early on Monday, sending a wall of water several metres high gushing down a valley that cuts through the city of Derna.
The unusual flooding and Libya’s political chaos contributed to the enormous toll.
“Some lucky people were able to make it out of the city in anticipation of the storm but many of us have to admit that they stood no chance at making it out of Derna and the other coastal cities in time,” said Amr Mohammed, a resident of Benghazi who has been helping people leave the area following the floods.
“What the world has to realise that it is easy to play the blame game and say all this destruction could have been mitigated but Libya would have needed years, not days, to give those residents a chance at survival.”
Oil-rich Libya has been split since 2014 between rival governments in the east and west backed by various militia forces and international supporters.
As rescuers continue to arrive in Benghazi and make their way to the affected communities, they say their mission is to locate the dead and give them the dignity of a burial.
“I’ve never seen this scale of destruction. Although we’re trained at the highest levels at disaster and emergency response, we’re bracing ourselves for a mission of a lifetime to dig out any remaining survivors,” a member of the UAE’s search and rescue team told The National.
Bodies “are littering the streets, washing back up on shore and buried under collapsed buildings and debris”, said Bilal Sablouh, regional forensics manager for Africa at the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“In just two hours, one of my colleagues counted over 200 bodies on the beach near Derna,” he said.
The recovery of bodies began to increase on Friday in the coastal city of Derna, the hardest hit by Storm Daniel.
“Rescue teams in the city of Derna were able to recover 47 people from under the rubble left by the devastating Storm,” Maj Omar Aguila, head of the rescue team at Libya’s civil defence – Umm Al Razm, said by phone from Derna.
Maj Aguila said that search and rescue teams were able to recover more than 100 bodies on Thursday.
In addition to the Libyan civil defence, rescue efforts across different cities continue, with teams from the UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Spain, Tunisia and Algeria operating in the country.