Some 10,000 people are still missing in Libya after ‘catastrophic’ floods obliterated entire neighbourhoods, with officials warning the death toll is ‘huge’ and could end up in the thousands.
Mediterranean storm Daniel hit the county on Sunday night and wreaked havoc and flash flooding in towns across in eastern Libya but the worst hit was Derna, where heavy rainfall broke dams and washed away entire communities.
There are still areas that rescuers are struggling to reach in the city and many of the thousands who are missing there are believed to have been carried away by the fast-paced and churning waters after two upstream dams burst.
‘The situation is catastrophic,’ said Othman Abduljaleel, the health minister in Libya’s eastern government. ‘The bodies are still lying on the ground in many parts (of the city). Hospitals are filled with bodies. And there are areas we have yet to reach.’
Authorities estimated earlier that as many as 2,000 people may have perished in Derna alone. The Ambulance and Emergency Authority, which coordinates search and rescue efforts, said about 2,300 people died in Derna but did not clarify what that figure was based on.
Tamer Ramadan, Libya envoy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said 10,000 people were missing after the unprecedented flooding.
‘Our teams on the ground are still doing their assessment (but) from what we see and from the news coming to us, the death toll is huge,’ he told reporters in Geneva via video link from Tunis.
‘It might reach to the thousands,’ he said in English. ‘We don’t have a definite number right now.’
Referring to Friday’s devastating earthquake in Morocco, on the other side of North Africa, Ramadan said the situation in Libya was ‘as devastating as the situation in Morocco.’
Ossama Hamad, Prime Minister of the government in eastern Libya, said that many of the missing were believed to have been carried away after two upstream dams burst. He said the devastation in Derna is far beyond the capabilities of his country.
After more than a decade of chaos, Libya remains divided between two rival administrations: one in the east and one in the west, each backed by different militias and foreign governments. The conflict has left the oil rich North African country with crumbling and inadequate infrastructure.
Derna was declared a disaster zone and more bodies were still under the rubble in the city’s neighborhoods, or washed away to the sea, according to Abduljaleel, the health minister.
Residents posted videos online showing major devastation. Entire residential blocks were erased along Wadi Derna, a river that runs down from the mountains through the city center. Multi-story apartment buildings that once stood well back from the river were partially collapsed into mud.
Abduljaleel said the city was inaccessible and bodies were scattered all over, according to Libya’s state-run news agency.
‘The situation was more significant and worse than we expected. An international intervention is needed,’ he was quoted as saying.