Different accounts are coming out of eastern Libya after some news networks reported that their journalists had been asked by authorities to leave the flood-hit city of Derna.
A government minister confirmed to the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that journalists had been asked to leave in “an attempt to create better conditions for the rescue teams to carry out the work more smoothly and effectively”.
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“The large number of journalists has become an impediment to the work of rescue teams,” Hichem Abu Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation in the eastern Libyan administration, said.
Communications links, which had come back online after the disastrous dam collapse that decimated the city, also went down on Tuesday morning.
A statement from the east’s telecommunications company attributed the outage to severed fibre optic cables, adding that the company was investigating how this had happened.
🚨#Urgent | We have lost contact with all international and local journalists inside #Derna since 3:00 AM. I've been receiving consistent information about arrests being carried out since dawn today. No information about the arrest of journalists so far. ‼️
— Mohammed Elgrj (@moelgrj) September 19, 2023
Adding to the confusion were unconfirmed reports that international aid organisations had also been asked to leave, or to change their operations. Al Jazeera has not been able to independently verify this.
‘Our last call’
Journalist Tamer es-Samadi told Al Jazeera that journalists were beginning to leave.
“This is our last call to you from this destroyed, stricken city,” he said.
The humanitarian situation on the ground has worsened, es-Samadi went on to say, pointing to the lack of resources and specialised companies for search and rescue, as hope of finding more survivors a week later dwindles.
“According to the Red Cross, the possibility of finding people alive has become very small,” es-Samadi said. “We are talking about thousands of people who are still under the rubble.”
Rula al-Khatib, a journalist with the Emirati-based al-Hadath TV channel, said local authorities want humanitarian and relief organisations on the ground to organise their work more efficiently.
The death toll after the collapse of two dams upstream from Derna in the midst of Storm Daniel on September 10 swept entire neighbourhoods away has varied – government officials and aid agency tallies ranging from about 4,000 to 11,000 dead.
On Monday, hundreds of demonstrators crowded into the square in front of Derna’s landmark gold-domed al-Sahaba Mosque chanting slogans and demanding accountability from the authorities.
Derna is in a complete connection blackout
A voice from Derna who managed to leave the city
“In a sudden decision. All international rescue teams have been ordered to leave today although tens of thousands of people are still missing”
— Ghaith Shennib (@GhaithShennib) September 19, 2023
Some waved flags from atop the mosque’s roof. Later in the evening, they stormed and torched the house of Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi, his office manager told Reuters.
The government administering eastern Libya said Ghaithi had been suspended as mayor and all members of the Derna city council had been dismissed from their posts and referred to investigators.
Swathes of Derna remain a muddy ruin as families search for their missing loved ones in the rubble and mud.
Angry residents say the disaster could have been prevented.
Officials acknowledge that a contract to repair the dams after 2007 was never completed in spite of the funds being disbursed.