The aid effort in the flood-ravaged city of Derna in east Libya has ramped up considerably in the past 48 hours. But while there are increased numbers of people on the ground helping, much of it still seems a frenzied, chaotic mess.
The humanitarian relief work might have stepped up a gear more than a week on from the massive disaster but now the aid teams are scrambling to prevent another disaster – that of the spread of disease.
We saw groups handing out masks and plastic gloves to people after warnings that the putrefying corpses still being recovered could spread disease. The water is thought to be heavily contaminated and large sections of the city centre have been left with no water or electricity.
The accelerated activity comes after days of mounting criticism about the relief operation being slow and uncoordinated. Now the gutted city is much busier with scores of teams on site and the main route into and out of the devastated centre is clogged with vehicles. Most we saw were Libyans – from all parts of the fractured country.
We spotted a group of young men from Benghazi, dressed in hazmat suits and wearing respirators.
“There’s no actual way to describe (what’s happened) and to talk about it,” one told us: “You are lost for words… it’s an absolute catastrophe.”
Many of the teams are still involved in trying to locate and retrieve the bodies of those who didn’t survive the violent flooding.
Libyan National Army commandos were on a charm offensive with us, inviting us to film them pitching in with the aid fort.
Captain Hamza Adia told us how the troops – like their civilian brothers and sisters – had been deeply affected by the tragedy.
“We are here and helping retrieve the dead bodies.
“All of us are brothers – my guys are here and we’re ready to give everything – even if that costs us our lives.”
Many civilians have been heavily critical about what they say is the lack of any substantial effort on the part of the military to help out with the relief work.
The military strongman effectively in charge of the east, Khalifa Heftar and his sons, have been accused of trying to bolster their power here rather than distribute humanitarian aid.
Libya’s recent history dating back to the 2011 NATO-backed military campaign to topple the long-time dictator Colonel Gaddafi, has meant the country has been fraught with problems ever since.
The ousting of Colonel Gaddafi led to a power vacuum which was filled by competing militia and resulted in rival authorities controlling the east and west as well as the outbreak of a bitter and violent civil war.
The instability allowed the Islamic State to take over territory including Derna in 2014. General Khalifa Heftar who was a soldier in Gaddafi’s military imposed a siege on the city to try to “starve” the IS militants into submission.
He claimed the credit for eventually pushing them out although Derna residents remember events differently, insisting it was an anti-Heftar group of tribes who reclaimed their city for them. Heftar has maintained a focused eye on Derna ever since.
We spoke to his youngest son, General Saddam Khalifa, who is considered his father’s most likely successor and who we’ve spotted touring the devastated city over the past few days.
Almost every Libyan you speak to at the moment will tell you of the need for much more aid from outside the country to help them cope with this huge disaster. But if General Khalifa agrees with this sentiment, he’s reluctant to talk too much about it when Sky News spoke to him.
“Has the international response been adequate?” I ask him – but he’s clearly a very reluctant interviewee. His face is a picture of irritation with me.
“It’s fine for now,” he replies. “Yes, we need help but the rescue teams are doing their job.”
He is the man in charge of the Disaster Response Committee and responsible for the coordination of the relief effort as well as the international rescue crews.
He is also likely to be in charge of any inquiry into how the city’s two dams both collapsed when Storm Daniel hit Libya.
The disintegration of the dams unleashed an avalanche of water which smashed through Derna like a powerful tsunami wrecking about an estimated quarter of the centre and killing thousands. The dams’ collapse is being blamed on poor maintenance over more than a decade.
But the younger Khalifa refused to countenance any suggestion there’d been neglect or wrongdoing – certainly at the top of the country’s eastern power base which, given the family’s stranglehold on all affairs here, would include himself, his father and his brothers.
I mention this criticism over the disaster and ask if the disaster could have been prevented. Many Derna residents say the lack of investment in the infrastructure – including not upgrading the two dams.
There had been multiple warnings that the dams urgently needed this. “What’s your view on that,” I ask.
He gives that question short shrift… “All is ok,’ he tells me.
“I have no criticism.” And with that, he indicates with a hand gesture that this brief interaction is over.
Alex Crawford was reporting from Derna in east Libya with cameraman Jake Britton and producer Chris Cunningham.
Florida: Woman whose remains were found in alligator’s mouth identified by police
Police have identified a woman whose remains were found in the mouth of a 13ft alligator in Florida.
The body of 41-year-old Sabrina Peckham was pulled from a canal in Largo, about 20 miles west of Tampa, after a witness spotted her in the alligator’s mouth, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said.
The animal was “humanely killed”, the sheriff’s office said, and the coroner’s office will perform a post-mortem examination to determine the official cause of death, but it is suspected Ms Peckham was killed by the alligator.
Ms Peckham’s daughter said her mother was homeless and lived near the water, and countered claims her mother had been taunting the animal.
Breauna Dorris wrote on Facebook: “Some details I would like to share is that my mother did not ‘taunt’ the alligator as some are saying in the news outlets comments.
“My mother was a part of the homeless population that lived in the nearby wooded area.
“It is believed that she may have been walking to or from her campsite near the creek in the dark and the alligator attacked from the water.”
She added: “No matter how you put it, no one deserves to die like this.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for Ms Peckham to raise money for funeral costs, which has raised nearly $6,000 so far.
Witness ‘threw a rock at the alligator’
The alligator was spotted by Jamarcus Bullard, who saw the reptile and a body in the water on Friday afternoon.
“I threw a rock at the gator just to see if it was really a gator,” he told a TV affiliate of NBC News, Sky News’ US partner network.
“It pulled the body, like it was holding on to the lower part of the torso, and pulled it under the water.”
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Mr Bullard said he started recording on his phone and contacted the authorities.
The discovery has left some locals nervous, with Jennifer Dean telling TV station WFLA that her children frequently walk by the canal.
Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro has died
Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was arrested in January after spending 30 years on the run, has died, according to Italian media reports.
The 61-year-old was suffering from cancer at the time of his arrest.
As his condition worsened in recent weeks he was transferred to a hospital from the maximum-security prison in central Italy where he was initially held.
He was convicted of numerous crimes, including for his role in planning the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – crimes that shocked Italy and sparked a crackdown on the Sicilian mob.
He was also held responsible for bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993 that killed 10 people, as well as helping organise the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, 12, to try to dissuade the boy’s father from giving evidence against the mafia.
The boy was held for two years, then murdered.
Dubbed by the Italian press as “the last Godfather”, Messina Denaro is not believed to have given any information to the police after he was seized outside a private health clinic in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, on 16 January.
According to medical records leaked to the Italian media, he underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2020 and 2022 under a false name.
A doctor at the Palermo clinic told La Repubblica newspaper that Messina Denaro’s health had worsened significantly in the months leading up to his capture.
The sleepy Russian village where a pardoned ex-convict back from Ukraine carried out butchery
The village of Derevyannoe in Karelia, northwest Russia, has a well-kept feel to it. Apple trees heavy with fruit and tidy vegetable gardens, boats on trailers ready for sailing in the nearby lake and wood stacked up high for winter.
Up above you can just about make out the sound of woodpeckers tapping away in the pine forest canopy as dogs bark fiercely behind corrugated iron. It does not look like a place for mass murder, but where does.
Irina Zhamoidina stands in front of the charred remains of her brother, Artyom Tereschenko’s home. He and her 71-year-old father, Vladimir, were murdered here on the night of 1 August when two men, both of them ex-convicts, one fresh back from the frontline, broke in and stabbed father and son to death before setting the property on fire.
Mr Taroschenko’s children, aged nine and 12, managed to escape through a window and raise the alarm.
“My dad definitely did not deserve such a death,” Ms Zhamoidina says quietly. “We are from a good family. This is not how he should have died.”
The two men then continued down the road to another house a few hundred metres away and killed all four who lived there, three men and a woman, before setting their house on fire too. A drunken binge with a dose of drugs mixed in, Ms Zhamoidina thinks – a ‘zapoi’, as they’re known in Russia – turned murderous one sleepy summer night.
One of the men, Maxim Bochkarev, was known locally as a troublemaker. He had served time at a prison colony in St Petersburg for theft, carjacking, rape and sexual assault which is where he met his partner in crime, Igor Sofonov.
Sofonov, 37, had three more years to go for theft, robbery and attempted murder but was recruited straight from jail by Russia’s Ministry of Defence and sent to Ukraine, a practice started by the late Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and adopted enthusiastically by the Russian military.
“I believe that anyone who was in prison, even if he went to war, then he should be sent back when he was done for such serious crimes,” Ms Zhamoidina says. “They should not live among us because cases like this do happen.”
She is right. The catalogue of violent crimes committed by pardoned ex-offenders is picking up as they trickle back home.
In June, Prigozhin said 32,000 recruited by Wagner were heading back to Russia, their records wiped clean.
Already in the southern city of Krasnodar, a Wagner ex-convict is on trial for murdering two people on their way home from work, a charge he denies. There have been cases of murder, sexual assault, child molestation from convicted sexual offenders.
In Novy Burets, about 500 miles east of Moscow, a Wagner ex-convict murdered an elderly lady, again on a drunken binge, even after locals repeatedly expressed their alarm to authorities that he was wandering their streets.
Three years ago we travelled to the Siberian city of Kemerovo to cover a case of domestic violence which had culminated in the brutal murder of 23-year-old Vera Pekhteleva. Her story had shocked the country after the audio recordings of her screams, as neighbours made repeated, desperate calls to police, went viral. In court, her uncle had sat just metres away from the killer, Vladislav Kanyus, as he was sentenced to 17 years in jail. Now from social media photos, he knows that Kanyus is a free man, recruited by the Ministry of Defence and serving somewhere in Ukraine.
“He murdered her with extreme cruelty,” Mr Pekhtelev said. “He was tormenting Vera for three hours, and now he will have been trained to fight. I just can’t imagine what will happen if he comes back.”
Changes to Russian legislation in June propose allowing suspected or convicted criminals to fight but not once a verdict takes effect. The reality of Russia’s prisoner recruitment though seems a lot murkier. According to the UK’s Ministry of Defence, it is part of a “broader, intense drive by the Russian military to bolster its numbers, while attempting to avoid implementing new mandatory mobilisation, which would be very unpopular”.
It is a policy which will see hardened criminals, traumatised by war, returning in their thousands with precious little in the way of psychological support or rehabilitation to speak of. Just as with domestic violence in Russia, authorities do not engage sufficiently with these kind of social issues back home, and especially not when there is a war on. But this is the stuff which tears at the social fabric of towns and villages across the country. This is one more of the many unintended consequences of war. Beyond the the zinc coffins and the escalating drone onslaught, this is how war comes home.
Alexandra Sofonova, Igor’s sister, believes the state should give psychological support to men like her brother, but she is sure that it won’t. “He served his duty, he was wounded – he’s a man and they’re proud of things like this. And then he came back and turned out to be unnecessary, he couldn’t even get a passport, he goes to glue wallpaper. Maybe something clicked in his head”, she says.
On the back of a supermarket wall a few feet from where we sit there is a piece of graffiti scrawled in large black letters. “Putin, no to war,” it says. I ask Alexandra what she thinks about it.
“I don’t know what kind of special operation this is,” she says. “Many of my friends died and are returning in zinc coffins. But they are dying for nothing. What are we fighting to win?”
The other sister in this story, Irina Zhamoidina, whose men were murdered back home, says it is her faith in God which gets her through each painful day.
“I’m afraid for the whole country. No one has the right to kill another, to take a life. They were not given this right”, she says. “We must stop this somehow, so that these kind of people are not among normal society.”
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