Emergency workers uncovered more than 1,500 bodies in the wreckage of Libya’s eastern city of Derna on Tuesday, and it was feared the toll could surpass 5,000 after floodwaters smashed through dams and washed away entire neighbourhoods of the city.
The startling death and devastation wreaked by Mediterranean storm Daniel pointed to the storm’s intensity, but also the vulnerability of a nation torn apart by chaos for more than a decade. The country is divided by rival governments, one in the east, the other in the west, and the result has been neglect of infrastructure in many areas.
Outside help was only just starting to reach Derna on Tuesday, more than 36 hours after the disaster struck. The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to the coastal city of some 89,000.
Footage showed dozens of bodies covered by blankets in the yard of one hospital.
At least one official put the death toll at more than 5,000. Mohammed Abu-Lamousha, a spokesman for the east Libya interior ministry, said more than 5,300 people had died in Derna alone. Derna’s ambulance authority said earlier Tuesday that 2,300 had died.
Tamer Ramadan, Libya envoy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies told a U.N. briefing in Geneva that at least 10,000 people were still missing and more than 40,000 people have been displaced.
As the storm pounded the coast, Derna residents said they heard loud explosions and realized that dams outside the city had collapsed. Flash floods were unleashed down Wadi Derna, a river running from the mountains through the city and into the sea.
Libya’s National Meteorological Center said that Bayda recorded a record 414.1 millimeters (16.3 inches) of rain from Sunday to Monday.
Many bodies were believed trapped under rubble or had been washed out into the Mediterranean Sea. Flooding often happens in Libya during the rainy season, but rarely with this much destruction.
The Tripoli-based government of western Libya sent a plane with 14 tons of medical supplies and health workers to Benghazi. It also said it had allocated the equivalent of $412 million for reconstruction in Derna and other eastern towns. It was not clear how quickly the aid could be moved to Derna, 250 kilometers (150 miles) east of Benghazi, given the conditions on the ground.
The storm hit other areas in eastern Libya, including the town of Bayda, where about 50 people were reported dead. Hundreds of families were displaced and took shelter in schools and other government buildings in Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya.
Northeast Libya is one of the country’s most fertile and green regions. The Jabal al-Akhdar area — where Bayda, Marj and Shahatt are located — has one of the country’s highest average annual rainfalls, according to the World Bank.