UN warns disease outbreak in Libya’s flooded east could create 2nd ‘crisis’

Officials warned Monday that a disease outbreak in Libya’s northeast, where floods have killed thousands, could create “a second devastating crisis” as diarrhea spread among those who drank contaminated water.

In a statement, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya said it was particularly concerned about water contamination and the lack of sanitation after two dams collapsed during Mediterranean storm Daniel, sending a wall of water gushing through the eastern city of Derna on Sept. 11. The death toll has varied, with government officials and aid agencies giving tallies ranging from about 4,000 to 11,000 dead.

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The Health Minister from Libya’s eastern government, Othman Abduljaleel, said Sunday that his ministry had begun a vaccination program “against diseases that usually occur after disasters such as this one” but didn’t elaborate.

Libya’s Red Crescent has said at least 11,300 people have been killed and an additional 10,000 are missing. After earlier reporting that same death toll, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is now citing far lower numbers, with about 4,000 people killed and 9,000 missing.

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East Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel, said at least 3,283 bodies had been buried as of Sunday night. He didn’t give an exact figure for the bodies retrieved so far. However, previously, on Thursday, he said more than 3,000 bodies were buried “while another 2,000 were still being processed.”

Last week, Derna’s mayor said the toll could reach 20,000 dead.

Meanwhile, the floods have raised concerns about the ruins of Ceyrene, an ancient Greco-Roman city roughly 37 miles (60 kilometers) east of Derna that is one of five Libyan UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“UNESCO is in contact with archaeologists on the ground and its satellite imaging team is also trying to establish what the damage might be,” the agency said Monday in a statement sent to The AP.

Jeffery reported from London. Associated Press journalists Patricia Simona and Samy Magdy contributed to this report from Derna and Cairo retrospectively.

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