5,000 feared dead as floods wipe out quarter of Libya city
10,000 still unaccounted for: Two dams, four bridges collapse in Derna submerging much of the city
September 13, 2023 09:23 AM
About 5,000 people have been feared killed and with over 10,000 missing in Libya floods caused by a huge Mediterranean storm that burst dams, swept away buildings and wiped out as much as a quarter of the eastern coastal city of Derna.
Two dams and four bridges collapsed in Derna, submerging much of the city when Storm Daniel had hit on Sunday.
Hichem Abu Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation in the administration that controls the east, told foreign media that: “Bodies are lying everywhere – in the sea, in the valleys, under the buildings.”
“I am not exaggerating when I say that 25% of the city has disappeared. Many, many buildings have collapsed,” Chkiouat stated.
As global concern spread, multiple nations offered to urgently send aid and rescue teams to help the war-scarred country that has been overwhelmed by what one UN official labelled "a calamity of epic proportions".
Massive destruction shattered the Mediterranean coastal city of Derna, home to about 100,000 people, where multi-storey buildings on the river banks collapsed and houses and cars vanished in the raging waters.
Emergency services under the divided country's internationally recognised government reported an initial death toll of more than 2,300 in Derna alone and said over 10,000 people remained missing while about 7,000 were injured.
But officials from the rival government in eastern Libya said "thousands" more perished in the floods in Derna and that the death toll could surpass 10,000.
The floods were caused by torrential rains from Storm Daniel, which made landfall in Libya on Sunday after earlier lashing Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.
Derna, 250 kilometres (150 miles) east of Benghazi, is ringed by hills and bisected by what is normally a dry riverbed in summer, but which has turned into a raging torrent of mud-brown water that also swept away several major bridges.
"The death toll is huge and might reach thousands," said Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, adding 10,000 people were missing.
Elsewhere in Libya's east, aid group the Norwegian Refugee Council said "entire villages have been overwhelmed by the floods and the death toll continues to rise".
"Communities across Libya have endured years of conflict, poverty and displacement. The latest disaster will exacerbate the situation for these people. Hospitals and shelters will be overstretched."
- 'Catastrophic' situation -
Footage on Libyan TV showed dozens of bodies, wrapped in blankets or sheets, on Derna's main square awaiting identification and burial, and more bodies in Martouba village to the southeast.
More than 300 victims were buried Monday -- but vastly greater numbers were feared lost in the river that empties into the Mediterranean.
The storm also hit Benghazi and the hill district of Jabal al-Akhdar. Flooding, mudslides and other major damage were reported from the wider region, with images showing overturned cars and trucks.
Libya's National Oil Corporation, which has its main fields and terminals in eastern Libya, declared "a state of maximum alert" and suspended flights between production sites where it said activity was drastically reduced.
Oil-rich Libya is still recovering from the years of war and chaos that followed the 2011 NATO-backed popular uprising which toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The country is divided between two rival governments -- the UN-brokered, internationally recognised administration based in Tripoli, and a separate administration in the disaster-hit east.
Access to the east is limited. Phone and online links have been largely severed, but the administration's prime minister Oussama Hamad has reported "more than 2,000 dead and thousands missing" in Derna alone.
A Derna city council official described the situation as "catastrophic" and asked for "national and international intervention".
- Aid offers -
Libya's UN-backed government under Abdelhamid Dbeibah announced three days of national mourning on Monday and emphasised "the unity of all Libyans".
Aid convoys from Tripoli were heading east and Dbeibah's government announced the dispatch of two ambulance planes and a helicopter, as well as rescue teams, canine search squads and 87 doctors, and technicians to restore power.
Rescue teams from Turkey have arrived in eastern Libya, according to authorities, and the UN and several countries offered to send aid, among them Algeria, Egypt, Italy, Qatar and Tunisia.
"Jill and I send our deepest condolences to all the families who have lost loved ones in the devastating floods in Libya," US President Joe Biden said in a White House statement, adding his government was sending funds and additional support.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also offered his condolences.
"We share the pain and grief of the friendly people of Libya. And of course we are ready to provide the necessary assistance," he said in a statement from the Kremlin.
France said it had decided to deploy a field hospital that would be operational within 48 hours.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed "his heartfelt condolences to the Libyan authorities and families of those who have lost their lives as a result of Storm Daniel", his spokesman said.