Around a quarter of Libya’s eastern city of Derna was wiped out by floods after dams burst in a storm, and more than 1,000 bodies have been recovered so far, a minister in the administration that controls the east said on Tuesday.
“I returned from Derna. It is very disastrous. Bodies are lying everywhere – in the sea, in the valleys, under the buildings,” Hichem Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation and member of the emergency committee, told Reuters by phone.
“The number of bodies recovered in Derna is more 1,000,” he said. He expected the final toll would be “really, really big”.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that 25% of the city has disappeared. Many, many buildings have collapsed.”
Chkiouat later told Al Jazeera that he expected the total number of dead across the country to reach more than 2,500, as the number of missing people was rising.
Other eastern cities including Libya’s second biggest city of Benghazi, have also been hit by storm Daniel as it swept onto the country after hitting Greece.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) also said that the number of victims could reach thousands.
A Reuters journalist on the way to Derna, a coastal city of around 125,000 inhabitants, saw vehicles overturned on the edges of roads, trees knocked down, and abandoned, flooded houses. Convoys of aid and assistance were heading towards the city.
Videos showed a wide torrent running through the city centre where a far narrower waterway had previously flowed. Ruined buildings stood on either side.
Another video shared on Facebook, which Reuters could not independently verify, appeared to show dozens of bodies covered in blankets on the pavements.
Aid coming in
Libya is politically divided between east and west and public services have crumbled since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that prompted years of 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, a Reuters journalist on the plane said.
The emergency medical supply plane is carrying 14 tons of supplies, medications, equipment, body bags and 87 medical and paramedical personnel, headed to Benghazi, the head of Libya’s Government of National Unity Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah said on X.
U.S. special envoy to Libya Richard Norton said on X that Washington would send aid, “coordinating with U.N. partners and Libyan authorities to assess how best to target official U.S. assistance”.
Egypt, Qatar, Iran and Germany were among the countries that also said they were ready to send aid.
“The news about the severe flooding in Libya is dismaying. Many dead and injured are expected, especially in the east,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz posted on X.
The former U.N. acting envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, urged quick foreign aid, saying the disaster “requires an urgent ramp up in international and regional assistance” in a post on X.