- A government official claims 2 000 people died in the Libyan city of Derna due to Storm Daniel.
- The Red Crescent puts the figure closer to 250.
- Some residents woke up surrounded by water, and collapsing buildings claimed many lives.
Deadly storm winds and heavy floods hit Libya over the past two days, with estimates of fatalities ranging from hundreds to thousands of people, senior officials said on Monday.
The head of Libya’s eastern government, Osama Hamad, said more than 2 000 people had died in the coastal city of Derna and thousands more were missing. The head of the Red Crescent aid group in the region said Derna’s toll was expected to hit 250.
Hamad did not give a source for his data and Reuters was not able to verify the figures in a country politically split east and west with two rival administrations and where public services have crumbled since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.
Storm Daniel swept in over the Mediterranean on Sunday, swamping roads and destroying buildings in Derna, and hitting other settlements along the coast including Libya’s second biggest city of Benghazi.
Footage on social media and broadcast by eastern Libya’s Almostkbal TV showed people stranded on the roofs of their vehicles calling for help and waters washing away cars.
“The missing are in the thousands, and the dead exceed 2 000,” Osama Hamad told al-Masar TV. “Entire neighbourhoods in Derna have disappeared, along with their residents … swept away by water.”
Hamad heads a government that is not internationally recognised, and which operates in eastern areas of Libya that are controlled by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
The missing include seven LNA members, its spokesman, Ahmad Mismari, said.
“We recorded at least 150 deaths (in Derna) after the collapse of buildings. We expect death toll to rise to 250. The situation is very catastrophic,” the Red Crescent’s Kais Fhakeri told Reuters.
Derna resident Saleh al-Obaidi said he had managed to flee with his family, though houses in a valley near the city had collapsed.
“People were asleep and woke up and found their homes surrounded by water,” he told Reuters.
Ahmed Mohamed, another resident, said: “We were asleep, and when we woke up, we found water besieging the house. We are inside and trying to get out.
Almostkbal TV posted pictures of a collapsed road between Sousse and Shahat, home to the Greek-founded and UNESCO-listed archaeological site Cyrene.
Witnesses said the water level had reached three metres in Derna.
Ports closed, curfew imposed
Libya’s eastern-based parliament declared three days of mourning. Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, prime minister of the interim government in Tripoli, also declared three days of mourning in all the affected cities, calling them “disaster areas”.
Four major oil ports in Libya, Ras Lanuf, Zueitina, Brega and Es Sidra, were closed from Saturday evening for three days, two oil engineers told Reuters.
Search-and-rescue operations were ongoing, witnesses said. Authorities declared a state of extreme emergency, closing schools and stores and imposing a curfew.
His administration holds little sway in eastern Libya, but Dbeibah said on Sunday he had directed all state agencies to “immediately deal” with the damage and floods in eastern cities.
Dbeibah’s government is recognised by the Central Bank of Libya, which disburses funds to government departments across the country.
The United Nations in Libya said it was following the storm closely and would “provide urgent relief assistance in support of response efforts at local and national levels”.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani instructed the government to send aid to the affected area in eastern Libya, Qatar’s state news agency reported.