Libyan City Buries 700 People Killed In Devastating Floods As 10,000 Are Reported Missing

(AP) — Libya’s eastern city of Derna has buried 700 people killed in devastating flooding and 10,000 were reported missing as rescue teams struggled to retrieve many more bodies from the horrific deluge, officials said Tuesday.

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.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Othman Abduljaleel, the health minister in Libya’s eastern government. “The bodies are still lying on the ground in many parts (of the city). Hospitals are filled with bodies. And there are areas we have yet to reach.”

Authorities estimated earlier that as many as 2,000 people may have perished in Derna alone. The Ambulance and Emergency Authority, which coordinates search and rescue efforts, said Tuesday that about 2,300 people died in Derna but did not clarify what that figure was based on.

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.

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.

Referring to 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 eastern Libyan government, 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.

Derna was declared a disaster zone and more bodies were still under the rubble in the city’s neighbourhoods, or washed away to the sea, according to Abduljaleel, the health minister.