Toll from devastating floods in Libyan city passes 5,100 dead

Toll from devastating floods in Libyan city passes 5,100 dead

Toll from devastating floods in Libyan city passes 5,100 dead

DERNA, Libya — Search teams combed streets, wrecked buildings and even the sea for bodies in a devastated eastern Libyan city on Wednesday, where authorities said massive flooding had killed at least 5,100 people, with the toll expected to rise further.

Authorities were still struggling to get aid to the Mediterranean coastal city of Derna after Sunday night’s deluge washed away most access roads. Aid workers who managed to reach the city described devastation in its center, with thousands still missing and tens of thousands left homeless.

“Bodies are everywhere, inside houses, in the streets, at sea. Wherever you go, you find dead men, women, and children,” Emad al-Falah, an aid worker from Benghazi, said over the phone from Derna. “Entire families were lost.”

Mediterranean storm Daniel caused deadly flooding in many towns of eastern Libya on Sunday, but the worst-hit was Derna. Two dams outside in the mountains above the city collapsed, sending floodwaters washing down the Wadi Derna river and through the city center, sweeping away entire city blocks. Waves rose as high as 7 meters (23 feet), Yann Fridez, head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Libya, told broadcaster France24.

Mohammed Derna, a teacher in the city, said he, his family and neighbors rushed to the roof of their apartment building, stunned at the volume of water rushing by. It reached the second story of many buildings, he said. They watched people below, including women and children being washed away.

“They were screaming, help, help,” he said over the phone from a field hospital in Derna. “It was like a Hollywood horror movie.”

Derna lies on a narrow coastal plain on the Mediterranean Sea, under steep mountains running along the coast. Only two roads from the south remain usable, and they involve a long, winding route through the mountains.

Aid teams with some supplies managed to get in that way, while authorities in eastern Libya worked Wednesday to repair the faster coastal access routes.

Otherwise, local emergency workers were relying on whatever equipment they already had on hand. Search teams combed shattered apartment buildings and retrieved the dead floating offshore in the Mediterranean Sea, al-Falah said. Collapsed bridges the river split the city center, further hampering movement.

Ossama Ali, a spokesman for the Ambulance and Emergency Center in eastern Libya, said at least 5,100 deaths were recorded in Derna, along with around 100 others elsewhere in eastern Libya. More than 7,000 people were injured in the city, most receiving treatment in field hospitals that authorities and aid agencies set up, he told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday.

The number of deaths is likely to increase since teams are still collecting bodies from the streets, buildings and the sea, he said. At least 9,000 remain missing, but that number could drop as communications are restored, Ali said.

At least 30,000 people in Derna were displaced by the flooding, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration said, adding that the city remained almost inaccessible for humanitarian aid workers.