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Rescuers retrieve more than 2,000 bodies in Libya following devastating floods

Storm Daniel caused flooding in Libya (Jamal Alkomaty/AP)
Samy Magdy, AP Reporter

Rescuers have found more than 2,000 bodies in the wreckage of a Libyan city where floodwaters broke dams and washed away neighbourhoods.

Officials fear the death toll could exceed 5,000 in the nation made vulnerable by years of turmoil and neglect.

The floods have displaced at least 30,000 people, the UN migration agency said.

The International Organisation for Migration said that the flooding caused significant infrastructure damage in the city of Derna, which is almost inaccessible for humanitarian aid workers.

Storm Daniel caused deadly flooding in many eastern towns, but the worst-hit was Derna. As the storm pounded the coast on Sunday night, Derna residents said they heard loud explosions when the dams outside the city collapsed.

A satellite photo shows flooding in Derna, Libya

Floodwaters washed down Wadi Derna, a river running from the mountains through the city and into the sea.

More than 2,000 bodies were collected as of Wednesday morning and more than half of them had been buried in mass graves in Derna, said eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel.

Rescue teams were working day and night to recover many other bodies scattered in the streets and under the rubble in the city. Some bodies were retrieved from the sea.

The startling devastation pointed to the storm’s intensity, but also Libya’s vulnerability.


The country is divided by rival governments, one in the east, the other in the west, and the result has been neglect of infrastructure in many areas.

The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to Derna, hampering the arrival of international rescue teams and humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed or damaged.

Floods in Libya

Rescue teams were working day and night to recover bodies scattered in the streets (Jamal Alkomaty/AP)

“The city of Derna was submerged by waves seven meters (23 feet) high that destroyed everything in their path,” said Yann Fridez, head of the delegation of the International Committee for The Red Cross in Libya. “The human toll is enormous.”

Local emergency crews, including troops, government workers, volunteers and residents, continued digging through rubble looking for the dead.

They also used inflatable boats and helicopters to retrieve bodies from the water and inaccessible areas.

Bulldozers have worked over the past two days to fix and clear roads to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and heavy equipment urgently needed for the search and rescue operations.

The city is 150 miles east of Benghazi, where international aid started to arrive on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Mohammed Abu-Lamousha, a spokesman for the east Libya interior ministry, put the death tally in Derna at more than 5,300, according to the state-run news agency. Dozens of others were reported dead in other towns in eastern Libya, he said.

Authorities have transferred hundreds of bodies to morgues in nearby towns.

In the city of Tobruk, which is 105 miles east of Derna, the Medical Centre of Tobruk’s morgue received more than 300 bodies for people killed in the Derna flooding. Among them were 84 Egyptians, according to a list of the dead obtained by the Associated Press.

Cars and rubble in a street in Derna, Libya

The storm caused deadly flooding in many eastern towns, but the worst-hit was Derna (Libyan government via AP)

Dozens of bodies of Egyptians killed in the floods were returned to their home country.

A funeral for 22 Egyptians was under way on Wednesday in their village of el-Sharif in the southern province of Beni Suef. Another four were buried in their hometown in the Nile Delta province of Beheira, local media in Egypt reported.

At least 10,000 people were still missing in the city, according to Tamer Ramadan, Libya envoy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Known for its white-painted houses and palm gardens, Derna is about 560 miles east of the capital Tripoli. Much of Derna was built by Italy when Libya was under Italian occupation in the first half of the 20th century.

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