World

Hundreds of bodies found in Libyan coastal city hit by flooding

A car sits partly suspended in trees after being carried by floodwaters in Derna (Libyan government handout via AP)
A car sits partly suspended in trees after being carried by floodwaters in Derna (Libyan government handout via AP)

Rescue teams in eastern Libya have retrieved hundreds of bodies from the rubble in a coastal city that has been hit by devastating floods, a humanitarian agency said.

Authorities estimated that as many as 2,000 people have died in the city of Derna.

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 neighbourhoods, authorities said.

Ossama Hamad, prime minister of the east Libya government, said that several thousand people were missing in the city and many of them were believed to have been carried away after two upstream dams burst.

Libya Flooding
A seaside road collapsed after heavy flooding in Derna (Libyan government via AP)

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 militias and foreign governments.

The conflict has left the oil-rich country with crumbling and inadequate infrastructure.

The Libyan Red Crescent said on Tuesday that its teams counted more than 300 people dead in Derna. The government in east Libya declared the city a disaster zone.

More bodies were still under the rubble in the city’s neighbourhoods, or washed away to the sea, according to east 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 centre. Multi-storey apartment buildings that once stood well back from the river were partially collapsed into mud.

Mr Abduljaleel said the city was inaccessible and bodies were scattered across it, according to Libya’s state-run news agency.

He said there was not an exact death toll as of Monday night in Derna but the tally is expected to exceed 2,000 as teams combed through the rubble.

Libya Floods
Cars and rubble can be seen in a devastated street in Derna (Libyan government via AP)

“The situation was more significant and worse than we expected. … An international intervention is needed,” he was quoted as saying.

Residents said they buried more than 200 bodies in one cemetery on Monday. Footage overnight showed dozens more bodies lying on the ground in a hospital yard in Derna.

Storm Daniel hit other areas in eastern Libya, including the town of Bayda, where about 50 people were reported dead.

Other towns affected included Susa, Marj and Shahatt. Hundreds of families were displaced and took shelter in schools and other government buildings in Benghazi and other towns in eastern Libya.

Authorities in east and west Libya rushed to help residents of Derna. Foreign governments also sent messages of support to Libya.

Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates were among those that said they would send humanitarian assistance and teams to help with search and rescue efforts.

Derna is about 560 miles east of the capital Tripoli. It is controlled by the forces of powerful military commander Khalifa Hifter, who is allied with the east Libya government. West Libya, including Tripoli, is controlled by armed groups allied with another government.

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 dictator Muammar Gadhafi in 2011.