Libya was reeling Wednesday from a massive flood disaster that killed thousands of people when a surge of water devastated the eastern city of Derna, leaving another 10,000 missing, according to the Red Cross.
Media reports quoted an interior ministry spokesman of the eastern-based government as saying “more than 5,200” people had died in Derna.
Derna Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi told reporters the estimated number of deaths in the city could reach between 18,000 and 20,000 based on the number of districts destroyed by the flood.
Relief missions gathered pace, with Turkey, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates among the first nations to rush aid to the war-scarred country, and the UN pledging $10 million in support for survivors, including more than 30,000 people left homeless.
The Mediterranean coastal city of Derna was hit by a huge flash flood late Sunday that witnesses likened to a tsunami after two upstream dams burst when torrential rains brought by Storm Daniel battered the region.
The wall of water ripped away entire buildings, vehicles and the people inside them. Many were swept out into the Mediterranean Sea, with bodies later washing up on beaches littered with debris and car wrecks.
Traumatized survivors have dug through the mud-caked ruins of shattered buildings to recover victims’ bodies, scores of which were lying wrapped in blankets out in the open before being buried in mass graves.
Oil-rich Libya is still recovering from the years of war and chaos that followed the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed its former leader, Moamer Kadhafi, in 2011.
The country has been left divided between two rival governments: the UN-brokered, internationally recognized administration based in Tripoli and a separate administration in the disaster-hit east.
The city, a 300-kilometer (190-mile) drive east of Benghazi, is ringed by hills and bisected by a riverbed that is usually dry in summer but became a raging torrent that also destroyed several bridges.
Mudslides and flooding also hit nearby areas of eastern Libya, where, as aid group the Norwegian Refugee Council said, “entire villages have been overwhelmed by the floods, and the death toll continues to rise”.
With global concern spreading, several nations offered urgent aid and rescue teams to help address what one UN official called “a calamity of epic proportions”.
The United Arab Emirates sent two aid planes carrying 150 tons of food, relief and medical supplies. A Kuwaiti flight took off Wednesday with 40 tons of supplies, and Jordan sent a military plane loaded with food parcels, tents, blankets and mattresses.
Climate experts have linked Libya’s deadly disaster to a combination of the impacts of a warming planet and the country’s years of political chaos and underinvestment in infrastructure.
Climate-linked extreme weather events tend to be the deadliest in strife-torn and poor countries that lack good infrastructure, early warning systems and strong emergency response services.