Thousands of people died after a strong storm caused flooding in Libya. The natural disaster left at least 2,300 people dead, according to local authorities, and around 10,000 missing so far, according to the Red Cross and Red Crescent. But it is estimated that the statistics could be even higher.
“The bodies are everywhere – in the sea, in the valleys, under the buildings,” said Hichem Chkiouat, Minister of Civil Aviation in the government of eastern Libya (not internationally recognized) and also a member of the Emergency Committee created after the floods.
In the city of Derna alone, bathed by the Mediterranean Sea, in the north of the country, the bodies of at least a thousand dead were found — that is, 1% of the population of around 100,000 inhabitants. “Entire neighborhoods of Derna have disappeared, along with their residents. They were swept away by the water,” said Osama Hamad, prime minister of eastern Libya.
The destruction in Derna was caused by the collapse of two dams, which submerged practically a quarter of the municipality. Recordings made with cell phone cameras show a huge number of bodies lined up on city streets. Other footage shows people being swept away by the current and drivers trying to save themselves on the roofs of cars.
Osama Ali, spokesman for the national emergency service, said at least 2,300 people had died, but the count was still ongoing. “Entire regions were wiped off the map,” he said. “There is only one hospital in Derna and it is overwhelmed.”
According to him, rescue teams have difficulty reaching some areas of the city, because many streets have turned into rivers. “We need logistical support to find the missing. We need specialized teams.” At the time he gave this statement, he commented that no help from abroad had arrived.
The eastern cities of Benghazi, Sousse, Derna and Al-Marj were also affected. Authorities in the east imposed a curfew. Schools and stores were forced to close.
Libya has been divided between two rival administrations since 2014, following the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Both governments have declared three days of mourning.
“The infrastructure is not very strong. Some basic services are still compromised and were in the reconstruction phase when the storm hit,” Tamer Ramadan, leader of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Libya, explained to the Financial Times.
The floods were caused by Storm Daniel, which is over the Mediterranean region. Last week, it hit Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, killing more than a dozen people.
On Sunday, Egypt was bracing for the storm, but by evening the meteorological service said rain clouds had dissipated off the country’s northwest coast. The Libyans, who border the Egyptians, were not so lucky.
Suzanne Gray, from the meteorology department at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom, explained that global warming has caused these storms to become less frequent. However, there is “consistent evidence” that the strongest storms are becoming even stronger, she told Reuters.
Editing: Thales Schmidt