CAIRO: At least 2,300 people were killed in Libya and thousands more were reported missing after a powerful Mediterranean storm triggered devastating flooding in the city of Derna.
Ossama Hamad, prime minister of the east Libya government, said earlier that deaths had exceeded 2,000 and thousands were missing in the city, as many were believed to have been carried away after two upstream dams burst.
Libyan emergency services on the ground reported an initial death toll of more than 2,300 in Derna alone and said more than 5,000 people remained missing while about 7,000 were injured.
“The situation in Derna is shocking and very dramatic,” said Osama Ali of the Tripoli-based Rescue and Emergency Service. “We need more support to save lives because there are people still under the rubble and every minute counts.”
Libyan Minister of Civil Aviation and Emergency Committee member Hichem Chkiouat was quoted by Reuters saying he expected the final toll would be "really, really big”.
“I returned from Derna. It is very disastrous. Bodies are lying everywhere - in the sea, in the valleys, under the buildings,” Chkiouat.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that 25% of the city has disappeared. Many, many buildings have collapsed.”
DEATH TOLL TO 'REACH THOUSANDS'
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) also said that the number of victims could reach thousands. Three Red Crescent volunteers have died while helping Libya flood victims, the IFRC said.
Tamer Ramadan of IFRC said: “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.”
Some Libyan media outlets quoted east Libya's health minister, Othman Abduljaleel, saying that he expected the number of victims to shockingly rise to 10,000, and those missing to reach about 100,000.
Mediterranean Storm Daniel caused devastating floods in many towns in eastern Libya. But the worst destruction was in Derna, where heavy rainfall and floods broke dams and washed away entire neighborhoods, authorities said.
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.
AID COMING IN
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.
The 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.
(with Reuters and AFP)