Thousands are feared dead following catastrophic floods in Libya
Libya floods: death toll expected to be ‘huge’, thousands missing after powerful storm
- Mediterranean storm Daniel caused devastating floods in Libya that broke dams and swept away entire neighbourhoods
- The destruction appeared greatest in Derna, a city where 2,000 were feared dead in and thousands were believed missing
Around a quarter of Libya’s eastern city of Derna was wiped out by floods after dams burst in a storm, and more than 1,000 bodies have been recovered so far, a minister in the administration that controls the east said on Tuesday.
“I returned from Derna. It is very disastrous. Bodies are lying everywhere – in the sea, in the valleys, under the buildings,” Hichem Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation and member of the emergency committee, told Reuters by phone.
“The number of bodies recovered in Derna is more 1,000,” he said. He expected the final toll would be “really, really big”.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that 25 per cent of the city has disappeared. Many, many buildings have collapsed.”
Chkiouat later told Al Jazeera that he expected the total number of dead across the country to reach more than 2,500, as the number of missing people was rising.
Other eastern cities including Libya’s second biggest city of Benghazi, have also been hit by storm Daniel as it swept onto the country after hitting Greece.
Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) also said that the number of victims could reach thousands.
“We don’t have a definite number right now,” he said, stressing though that the organisation had independent sources saying “the number of missing people is hitting 10,000 persons so far.”
Speaking on Libyan network Almasar, Oussama Hamad, prime minister of the east-based government, has reported “more than 2,000 dead and thousands missing” in the city of Derna alone, but no medical sources or emergency services have confirmed such figures.
But Ramadan said that judging from the figures he was seeing, “it’s very likely that the number declared [by the eastern official] could be close to the correct number”.
He said he hoped the IFRC would be able to provide a more precise toll of the disaster later on Tuesday.
“The humanitarian needs are much more beyond the abilities of the Libyan Red Crescent and even the abilities of the government,” Ramadan said.
“That’s why the government in the east has issued an international appeal for support,” he said, adding that IFRC was also preparing to launch an emergency appeal for funds towards the response.
A Reuters journalist on the way to Derna, a coastal city of around 125,000 inhabitants, saw vehicles overturned on the edges of roads, trees knocked down, and abandoned, flooded houses. Convoys of aid and assistance were heading towards the city.
Videos showed a wide torrent running through the city centre where a far narrower waterway had previously flowed. Ruined buildings stood on either side.
Another video shared on Facebook, which Reuters could not independently verify, appeared to show dozens of bodies covered in blankets on the pavements.
Libya is politically divided between east and west and public services have crumbled since a 2011 Nato-backed uprising that prompted years of conflict.
The internationally recognised government in Tripoli does not control eastern areas but has dispatched aid to Derna, with at least one relief flight leaving from the western city of Misrata on Tuesday, a Reuters journalist on the plane said.
In Tripoli, the three-person Presidential Council which functions as head of state in the divided country asked the international community to help. “We call on brotherly and friendly countries and international organisations to provide assistance,” it said.
Osama Hamad, the head of a parallel eastern-based administration, told local television that more than 2,000 were dead and thousands more missing.
Both governments have declared three days of mourning.
An emergency medical supply plane is carrying 14 tons of supplies, medications, equipment, body bags and 87 medical and paramedical personnel, headed to Benghazi, the head of Libya’s Government of National Unity Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah said on X.
US special envoy to Libya Richard Norton said on X that Washington would send aid, “coordinating with UN partners and Libyan authorities to assess how best to target official US assistance”.
Egypt, Qatar, Iran and Germany were among the countries that also said they were ready to send aid.
“The news about the severe flooding in Libya is dismaying. Many dead and injured are expected, especially in the east,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz posted on X.
The former UN acting envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, urged quick foreign aid, saying the disaster “requires an urgent ramp up in international and regional assistance” in a post on X.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse