GAZA CITY – As food rots and hospitals scramble to treat patients, a dire situation after three weeks of Israeli airstrikes and shelling is overwhelming residents and health officials, and Gaza's only power plant needs extensive repair.
"We have been suffering from frequent power cuts since 2006," said Gaza City resident Abu Jumah Sayyed. 47. "Now with the bombing of the power station, it is worse. We are running out of canned food, and we can't keep food in the freezer because we are running out of fuel for the generators."
Power shortages are nothing new for residents — electricity was often out for hours a day even before the fighting with Israel broke out three weeks ago — but 80% of the region is now without power after Israeli tank shells hit one of three fuel tanks at the power plant Tuesday, effectively shutting down the plant, said Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza Energy Authority.
"We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tank and the control room," Khalil said. "Everything was burned."
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The lack of power keeps many residents in the dark about the conflict swirling around them.
"We could not sleep because of the constant bombing, ambulance sirens and, of course, due to the crowdedness of our houses," said Gaza resident, Shaid Saleem, 35, whose family takes in others. "Power outages make our life hell – we do not know what is happening around us, we cannot watch TV, cannot use our computers and our mobile batteries are running out."
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In addition to the power outages and fuel shortages, hospitals lack medicine and supplies, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health. Health care facilities have struggled to treat the 7,000 Palestinians injured during the fighting and take in the bodies of more than 1,300 Palestinians who have died, while also dealing with patients coming in for issues related to pregnancy, surgery or illness.
Health care workers, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by airstrikes and shelling.
At least 47 health professionals have been killed or wounded, 34 health facilities have closed, and 13 hospitals and 10 primary health care clinics have been damaged, the Gaza Health Ministry reported.
To keep up with demands, doctors in Gaza need about $3 million in medical equipment, the ministry said.
Medication has been running low throughout the blockade, especially psychotropic drugs, and the ministry said patients have been relapsing from lack of medication. Many Gazans living in a state of war need medication to cope with the anxieties and traumas they have developed.
"We are overwhelmed," United Nations Relief and Works Agency Commissioner-General Pierre Kraehenbuehl said via Twitter. "Massive displacement caused by mil ops is overwhelming humanitarian agencies & leading to acute dilemmas in dealing with scale of crisis."
More than 200,000 have crammed into shelters across Gaza while tens of thousands have nowhere to go. The ministry said 2,330 housing units have been destroyed and 23,160 damaged in the past few weeks, not including mosques, news outlets, U.N. schools and government buildings.
Israel claims that Hamas militants routinely use infrastructure such as mosques and schools to conceal weapons. Hamas says Israel's military makes indiscriminate use of its overwhelming military power.
As a result of the fighting, the streets are clogged with rubble, garbage and dust, as well as people. Most stores remain closed, and food supplies and other necessities are running low. Sanitation teams removed tons of solid waste this week, but those who dare to go to work can't easily access garbage bins across Gaza, nor the waste facilities.
"We're facing a real catastrophe. Sewage pumps cannot work because the power plant has been destroyed, so we have sewage flooding the streets of Gaza," said Maher Najjar, deputy director of Gaza's Coastal Municipalities Water Utility. "We can't assess the extent of damage as we can't even go out without risking our lives right now."
Waters reported from Berlin. Contributing: The Associated Press