At least 2,300 people have died in an eastern Libyan city alone after a powerful storm caused devastating floods in the area over the weekend, emergency services said on Tuesday.
Local officials said around 5,000 were still missing in the city, Derna, which is home to 125,000 people.
“Bodies are lying everywhere — in the sea, in the valleys,under the buildings,” Hichem Abu Chkiouat, minister of civilaviation in the administration that controls the east, told Reuters.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that 25% of the city has disappeared. Many, many buildings have collapsed.”
In Libya, thousands are feared dead in floods caused by torrential rains from Storm Daniel. Derna residents reported hearing loud explosions when dams near the eastern city collapsed, followed by a wall of water that “erased everything in its way.” pic.twitter.com/cOVQ6baNlW
— DW News (@dwnews) September 12, 2023
Rescue teams get to work
A team from the emergency services has been stationed at Derna since Monday, Osama Ali, the spokesman for the Tripoli-based emergency services, told the AFP news agency.
Rescue teams have begun retrieving hundreds of bodies from the rubble after heavy rainfall over the weekend caused dams to break, washing away entire districts.
“The death toll is huge and might reach thousands,” Tamer Ramadan, the head of the IRFC delegation in Libya, told reporters earlier Tuesday.
“We can confirm from our independent sources of information that the number of missing people is hitting 10,000 persons so far,” he added.
Three volunteers from the Libyan Red Crescent have lost their lives “while on duty,” IFRC chief Jagan Chapagain wrote on X, the media platform formerly known as Twitter.
Meanwhile, UN Humanitarian Chief Martin Griffiths wrote on X that emergency teams were also being mobilized to help on the ground.
I am deeply concerned by the deadly flood emergency unfolding in #Libya.
Our thoughts are with the affected people.
Emergency teams are being mobilized to help on the ground.
— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief) September 12, 2023
EU pledges help
The European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said they were following the situation closely and stood ready to provide support.
“Saddened by images of devastation in Libya, ravaged by extreme weather conditions causing the tragic loss of many lives,” Borrell wrote on X.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz offered condolences to the people affected, saying the situation was dire. “We are in contact with the UN and partners about possible help,” he wrote on X.
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani wrote on X they were responding to requests for support, adding that “an assessment team is already on its way, coordinated by our civil protection unit.”
Turkey has sent aircraft carrying rescue workers and United Arab Emirates has pledged to do so, too. Algeria and Egypt have offered their condolences to the people of the North African country.
Uncertainty lingers in divided nation
Libya is divided between rival administrations in the west and east.
The eastern port city of Derna, once held by Islamic extremists in the years that followed strongman Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster, was among the hardest hit by the rains.
The west is ruled by an internationally recognized government in Tripoli, while the east is controlled by a separate administration.
Officials in the administration in the eastern part of the divided country put the death toll at 1,000 on Tuesday.
They said Monday they feared at least 2,000 people had died, though it was not clear what they were basing the number on. The government in Tripoli is yet to issue a count for deaths.
The chaos and split in governance in the oil-rich nation has long left cities with crumbling and inadequate structures.
This article was originally published on DW.