Thousands of people were killed and at least 10,000 were missing in Libya in floods caused by a huge Mediterranean storm that burst dams, swept away buildings and wiped out as much as a quarter of the eastern coastal city of Derna.
A senior medic in Derna told newsmen that more than 2,000 people were dead, while eastern Libya officials cited by local television were estimating a toll above 5,000.
Storm Daniel barrelled across the Mediterranean into a country divided and crumbling after more than a decade of conflict.
Derna, a city of around 125,000 inhabitants, was left with wrecked neighbourhoods, their buildings washed out and cars flipped on their roofs in streets covered in mud and rubble left by a wide torrent after dams burst.
Other eastern cities, including Libya’s second-biggest city Benghazi, were also hit by the storm. Tamer Ramadan, head of a delegation of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the death toll would be “huge”.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said emergency response teams had been mobilised to help on the ground.
As Turkey and other countries rushed aid to Libya, including search and rescue vehicles, rescue boats, generators and food, distraught Derna citizens rushed home in search of loved ones.
An interior ministry spokesperson said naval teams were searching for the “many families that were swept into the sea in the city of Derna”.
Derna is bisected by a seasonal river that flows from highlands to the south, and normally protected from flooding by dams.
Pope Francis was among world leaders who said they were deeply saddened by the deaths and destruction in Libya. U.S. President Joe Biden sent his condolences and said Washington was sending emergency funds to relief organisations.
Libya is politically split between east and west and public services have fallen apart since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that prompted years of factional conflict.
The internationally recognised government in Tripoli does not control eastern areas but has dispatched aid to Derna, with at least one relief flight leaving from the western city of Misrata on Tuesday..
(Editor Oloyede Oworu)