Libya buries thousands after deadly floods as search teams look for survivors

Damage from the massive flooding in Derna, Libya (Yousef Murad/AP)
Damage from the massive flooding in Derna, Libya (Yousef Murad/AP)

The Libyan city of Derna has buried thousands of people in mass graves as search teams scoured the area after devastating floods that killed at least 5,500 people, a health official said.

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.

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Floodwaters washed down Wadi Derna, a valley that cuts through the city, crumbling buildings and washing people out to sea.

Health authorities put the death toll in Derna at 5,500 as of Thursday. The number of deaths was likely to climb as there are least 9,000 people still missing, said Ossama Ali, a spokesman for an ambulance centre in eastern Libya.

In comments to the Saudi-owned Al Arabia television station, Derna mayor Abdel-Moneim al-Ghaithi, said the tally could climb to 20,000, given the number of neighbourhoods that were washed out.

An official with the UN’s World Health Organisation in Libya said the fatalities could reach 7,000, given the number of people who were still missing.

Damage from the massive flooding in Derna, Libya
Damage from the massive flooding in Derna, Libya (Yousef Murad/AP)

“The numbers could surprise and shock all of us,” said the official.

The floods have displaced at least 30,000 people in Derna, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration, and several thousand others were forced to leave their homes in other eastern towns, the UN agency said.

The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to Derna, hampering the arrival of international rescue teams and humanitarian assistance.

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

France Libya Floods
French aid workers wait by a cargo plane loaded with disaster relief for Libya (Daniel Cole/AP)

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

The dams that collapsed outside Derna were built in the 1970s and have not been maintained for years, local media reported.

More than 3,000 bodies were buried by Thursday morning, said eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel, while another 2,000 were still being processed.

He said most of the dead were buried in mass graves outside Derna, while others were transferred to nearby towns and cities.

Libya Flooding
At least 5,100 deaths were recorded in Derna, along with more than 100 others elsewhere in eastern Libya (Muhammad J Elalwany/AP)

He said rescue teams were still searching wrecked buildings in the city centre, and divers were combing the sea off Derna.

The storm hit other areas in eastern Libya, including the towns of Bayda, Susa, Um Razaz and Marj, leaving around 170 dead, the health minister said.

The dead in eastern Libya included at least 84 Egyptians, who were transferred to their home country on Wednesday.

More than 70 came from one village in the southern province of Beni Suef.

Libyan media also said dozens of Sudanese migrants were killed in the disaster.