Libyan City Buries 700 People Killed in Devastating Floods
Libya’s eastern city of Derna has buried 700 people killed in devastating flooding and 10,000 were reported missing as rescuers teams struggled to retrieve many more bodies from the horrific deluge, officials said Tuesday.
Authorities estimated earlier that as many as 2,000 people may have perished in Derna alone. Mediterranean storm Daniel on Sunday night caused havoc and flash flooding 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.
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. Speaking to reporters at a UN briefing in Geneva via videoconference from Tunisia, he said the death toll was “huge” and expected to reach into the thousands in the coming days.
Speaking about the fallout from 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.
The Libyan Red Crescent said early Tuesday that its teams counted more than 300 people dead in Derna, which authorities have declared a disaster zone.
More bodies were still under the rubble in the city’s neighborhoods, or washed away to the sea, according to eastern Libya's health minister, Othman Abduljaleel.
Derna 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. He said there wasn’t an exact death toll as of Monday night in Derna, but that the tally is expected to exceed 2,000 as search teams combed through the rubble.
“The situation was more significant and worse than we expected. … An international intervention is needed,” he was quoted as saying.
Emergency responders, including troops, government workers, volunteers and residents were digging through rubble to recover the dead. They also used inflatable boats to retrieve bodies from the water. Excavators and other equipment have yet to arrive in Derna.
Many residents described scenes of chaos when floods hit the center. They heard loud explosions at night and realized that dams outside the city collapsed, sending a wall of water that “erased everything in its way,” said Ahmed Abdalla, a Derna resident.
The storm hit other areas in eastern Libya, including the town of Bayda, where about 50 people were reported dead. The Medical Center of Bayda, the main hospital, was flooded and patients had to be evacuated, according to footage shared by the center on Facebook.
Other towns that suffered, included Susa, Marj and Shahatt, according to the government. Hundreds of families were displaced and took shelter in schools and other government buildings in the city of Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya.
Northeast Libya is one of the country’s most fertile and green regions. The Jabal al-Akhdar area -- where Bayda, Marj and Shahatt are located -- has one of the country’s highest average annual rainfalls, according to the World Bank.
Known for its white-painted houses and palm gardens, Derna is about 900 kilometers (560 miles) east of the capital of Tripoli. It is controlled by the forces of powerful military commander Khalifa Hifter, who is allied with the east Libya government. The rival government in west Libya, based in Tripoli, is allied with other armed groups.
Much of Derna was built by Italy when Libya was under Italian occupation in the first half of the 20th century. The city was once a hub for extremist groups in the years-long chaos that followed the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.Tags: