Authorities in eastern Libya say at least 2,000 people have died and thousands are missing after a tropical storm followed by massive flooding devastated Derna and hit other cities in the region.
The head of the local Red Crescent (equivalent to the Red Cross), however, said this Monday (11) that the number of deaths in the city was 150, with the expectation that the total would rise to 250. It was not possible , until the publication of this text, confirm either of the two numbers.
Ahmed Mismari, spokesman for the Libyan National Army, which controls territory in the east of the country, told a news conference that the disaster occurred after dams collapsed in Derna, “dragging entire neighborhoods with their residents into the sea.” According to Mismari, 5,000 to 6,000 people are missing. The Municipal Council of Derna states, on its Facebook profile page, that the situation is “catastrophic” and asks for international help.
Libya has declared three areas in the province of Cyrenaica, in the east of the country, as disaster zones and is asking for international help for emergency actions and the rescue of injured, homeless and bodies.
As a result of revolts and conflicts since 2011, the country is politically divided between governments to the east and west — the latter recognized by the international community, which operates with its capital in Tripoli and does not control the eastern areas.
Osama Hamad, head of the eastern parallel administration, told local media that more than 2,000 people were dead and thousands were missing.
“The missing are in the thousands, and the dead exceed 2,000. Entire neighborhoods in Derna have disappeared along with their residents, swept away by the water,” Hamad said.
The city has no internet access and there are reports of a lack of electricity, which makes communication about the real situation there and the work of rescue teams difficult.
The floods come days after Tropical Storm Daniel hit Libya over the weekend, flooding roads and destroying buildings in places like Derna and other cities on the coast, including the country’s second largest, Benghazi.
According to a report from the Arab Regional Meteorological Center, winds around the center of the storm reached 85 km/h on Saturday (9), when it was still in the Mediterranean Sea. The text also states that storms with “subtropical characteristics in the period from July to September in the central Mediterranean region are considered rare, according to available records.”
Photographs of Derna, which Reuters was unable to independently verify, show a wide river flowing through the city center where there was once a much narrower flow of water, with ruined buildings on both sides of the stream.
Images on social media and broadcast by Almostkbal TV in eastern Libya showed people trapped on the roofs of their vehicles calling for help and waters sweeping away cars.
Turkey announced the sending of three planes with rescue and humanitarian aid teams to the African country, according to Ankara’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There are 168 employees, two search and rescue vehicles and two boats, as well as tents, generators, food, clothing and hygiene items, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mismari, a spokesman for the government that controls the east of the country, says seven members of the Libyan National Army, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, died in the flood.
Saleh al-Obaidi, a resident of Derna, said he managed to escape with his family. “People were sleeping and woke up to find their houses surrounded by water,” he told Reuters.
“We were sleeping and when we woke up, we found water surrounding the house. We are inside and trying to get out,” said Ahmed Mohamed, another resident of the area. Witnesses said the water level rose three meters in Derna.
The parliament based in eastern Libya declared three days of mourning. Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, prime minister of the government in Tripoli, also declared three days of mourning in all affected cities.
Data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the UN agency for climate issues, indicate that extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, landslides, storms and fires have more than tripled over the last 50 years as a result of global warming.
Another body linked to the UN, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), has already stated in a report that today it is unequivocal that part of these changes were caused by human action.