The mayor of Derna, a port city in eastern Libya, has warned that the death toll from the catastrophic flooding that hit the city on Sunday could reach 20,000, as rescue workers continue to search for survivors amid the rubble and debris.
The flooding was caused by the collapse of two dams on the Wadi Derna river, which runs through the city, after a record-breaking rainfall brought by Storm Daniel, a rare Mediterranean hurricane-like system. The dams released a massive amount of water that swept away buildings, bridges, cars and people along its path.
According to the Ministry of the Interior of Libya’s eastern government, which controls Derna and other parts of the country, 5,300 people have been confirmed dead so far, and more than 10,000 are still missing. Many bodies have been recovered from the sea, where they were carried by the powerful current.
The mayor of Derna, Abdulrahman al-Barasi, said that the situation in the city was “beyond catastrophic” and that he feared that many of those missing would not be found alive. He said that the city had been “destroyed beyond recognition” and that it would take years to rebuild. He appealed for urgent humanitarian aid from the international community, saying that the city lacked food, water, medicine and shelter.
The United Nations has expressed its “deep sorrow” over the tragedy and said that it was working with local authorities and humanitarian partners to provide assistance to the affected population. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that it had allocated $10 million from its emergency fund to support the response.
The Red Cross and other aid agencies have also deployed teams and resources to Derna and other areas hit by the flooding. The Red Cross said that it was providing emergency health care, water and sanitation, shelter and psychosocial support to the survivors. It also said that it was helping to identify and bury the dead in a dignified manner.
Libya has been mired in conflict and instability since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. The country is divided between two rival administrations: one based in Tripoli and backed by the UN, and another based in Tobruk and supported by a military commander named Khalifa Haftar. Derna was under the control of Islamist militants until 2019, when Haftar’s forces captured it after a long siege.
The flooding has added to the humanitarian crisis in Libya, where more than one million people are in need of assistance, according to OCHA. The UN has called for a ceasefire and a political dialogue to end the conflict and address the root causes of the crisis.