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Faith Nyasuguta

Upto 2,000 people may have been drowned after a powerful storm unleashed catastrophic floods in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, according to the head of one of the nation’s two rival governments.

Speaking on Libyan network Almasar, Ossama Hamad, the prime minister of the east-based government, reported “more than 2,000 dead and thousands missing” in the city of Derna alone, after torrential rains over the weekend brought by Mediterranean storm Daniel. 

Still, no medical sources or emergency services have confirmed such figures.

The Red Crescent in Benghazi had put the death toll closer to just 250, but Derna, the worst-hit area, remained largely cut off with local leaders claiming the situation was “out of control and a catastrophe”.

The Libyan army mouthpiece in the east, Maj Gen Ahmed Al-Mismari, suggested that as many as 5,000 to 6,000 were missing in the city, which has a population of 100,000.

Currently, the precise number dead is hard to gauge with communications down and administration hampered by a decade-long battle for power between two rival governments each backed by their own militias.

Georgette Gagnon, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya, said early reports showed that dozens of villages and towns were “severely affected … with widespread flooding, damage to infrastructure, and loss of life.”

“I am deeply saddened by the severe impact of (storm) Daniel on the country … I call on all local, national, and international partners to join hands to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the people in eastern Libya,” she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Some 46 people were reported dead in the eastern town of Bayda, Abdel-Rahim Mazek, the head of the town’s main medical center said. Deaths were also reported in the towns of Susa, Shahatt, Omar al-Mokhtar and Marj.

Aid agencies and wealthy Gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates were rushing emergency aid to the region, with local officials saying they needed stretchers, food and water.

The deaths in Derna follow a powerful storm and heavy floods that led to the collapse of two ageing dams, which released a swollen fast-moving river that simply washed away at least one neighbourhood.

A video posted on social media revealed major devastation in the city. Entire residential areas were erased along a river that runs down from the mountains through the city centre. Apartment buildings that once stood well back from the river had partially collapsed into the mud.

So far, it is not known how many people were sleeping in the flats when the flood came. Residents first knew the dams had collapsed under the weight of the water when they heard an explosion in the middle of the night.

One resident on social media said: “After sunrise we went out to the streets of Derna, but the streets were not there.”

A Derna resident, Ahmed Mohamed, said: “We were asleep and when we woke up we found water besieging the house. We are inside and trying to get out.”

On their official Facebook page, the Derna municipal council announced that “the situation is catastrophic and out of control”. It called for international intervention and the opening of a sea corridor due to the collapse of most of the city’s roads.

Speaking to the local TV channel Libya al-Ahrar, a Derna city council official said four main bridges had collapsed, as well as the dams. Local media reported there was no electricity.

Kais Fhakeri of the Red Crescent said: “We recorded at least 150 deaths after the collapse of buildings. We expect the death toll to rise to 250. The situation is very catastrophic.”

Heavy floods washed away vehicles, footage broadcast by eastern Libya’s Almostakbal TV showed. The channel also posted pictures of a collapsed road between Sousse and Shahat, home to the Unesco-listed archaeological site Cyrene.

Libya’s eastern-based parliament declared three days of mourning. Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, the rival UN recognised Libyan prime minister based in Tripoli in Libya’s west, also announced three days of mourning in all the affected cities, calling them “disaster areas”.

Dbeibah’s government is recognised by the Central Bank of Libya, which disburses funds to government departments across the country.

Since a 2011 uprising that ousted and later killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, Libya has lacked a central government and the resulting lawlessness has meant dwindling investment in the country’s roads and public services and also minimal regulation of private buildings.

Derna itself, along with the city of Sirte, was controlled by extremist groups for years, at one point by those who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, until forces loyal to the east-based government expelled them in 2018.

Four oil ports – Ras Lanuf, Zueitina, Brega and Es Sidra – were closed from Saturday evening.

The storm struck eastern Libya on Sunday afternoon, hitting especially the coastal town of Jabal al-Akhdar but also Benghazi, where a curfew was declared and schools were closed for several days.

The United Nations mission in Libya on Monday said on X, formerly Twitter, that it was “closely following the emergency caused by severe weather conditions in the eastern region of the country”.

It expressed its condolences over the deaths and said it was “ready to support efforts by local authorities and municipalities to respond to this emergency and provide urgent humanitarian assistance”.

French president Emmanuel Macron expressed “solidarity with the Libyan people” and said the country was mobilizing resources to provide emergency aid.

US state department Spokesperson Matthew Miller offered “sympathies and condolences” to those affected by the floods, and said Washington was working with the UN and Libyan authorities to help relief efforts.

In Egypt, authorities called for caution on the northern coast, which borders eastern Libya, and announced they were beginning preparations to minimise the impact of storm Daniel.

Weather forecasters predicted more heavy rain there in the coming days.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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