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Over 20,000 feared killed in Libya’s Derna flooding


 |  Tripoli

Members of Libya’s Red Crescent recovering vehicles from the floods. (Photo: EPA)

Thousands remain missing as rescuers struggle to get to Derna, the city hardest hit by floods unleashed on Sunday by Storm Daniel.

Residents of the devastated Libyan city of Derna desperately searched for missing relatives as rescue workers appealed for more body bags, after a catastrophic flood that killed thousands of people and swept many out to sea.

Swathes of the Mediterranean city were obliterated by a torrent of water unleashed by a powerful storm that swept down a usually dry riverbed on Sunday night, bursting dams above the city. Multistorey buildings collapsed with families sleeping inside.

Spokesperson of the interior ministry Lieutenant Tarek al-Kharraz on Wednesday told the AFP news agency that 3,840 deaths had been recorded in the Mediterranean city so far, including 3,190 who have already been buried. Among them were at least 400 foreigners, mostly from Sudan and Egypt.

More than 5,300 dead had been counted so far, and said the number was likely to increase significantly and might even double the Reuters news agency quoted Libyan authorities as saying.

According to Al Arabiya television, the estimated number of deaths in the city could reach between 18,000 to 20,000 based on the number of districts destroyed by the flood.

Derna resident Mahmud Abdulkarim told journalist Moutaz Ali in Tripoli that he lost his mother and brother, after failing to evacuate in time from their first floor apartment following the collapse of a dam.

“When my mother and brother decided to finally leave our apartment, they were swept away by the floodwaters once they reached the streets to flee,” said Abdulkarim.

Mabrooka Elmesmary, a journalist who managed to leave Derna on Tuesday, describes the city as a “disaster on a massive scale”. “There is no water, no electricity, no petrol,” she told Al Jazeera. “The city is flattened.”

Apartment buildings with families inside have been swept away, she said. “There’s a wave of displacement as people are trying to flee Derna but many are stuck because a lot of the roads are blocked or gone,” Elmesmary said.

The beach was littered with clothes, toys, furniture, shoes and other possessions swept out of homes by the torrent.

Streets were covered in deep mud and strewn with uprooted trees and hundreds of wrecked cars.

Rescue teams have arrived from Egypt, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar, said Derna mayor al-Ghaithi.

 “This is one of three Qatari military … cargo planes expected to arrive in Benghazi today,” Stratford said.

Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina, reporting from Tripoli, said there has been an outpouring of support from Libyans themselves from across the country. The aid also includes “medical equipment, medicine, food, tents”, Stratford said. “All the aid here is going to be taken to Derna as quickly as possible.”

Rescue operations are complicated by deep political fractures in the country of seven million people that has lacked a strong central government and been at war on and off since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

An internationally recognized Government of National Unity (GNU) is based in Tripoli, in the west, while a parallel administration operates in the east, including Derna. (with inputs from Agencies)


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