A powerful storm that unleashed torrential rain and extreme flooding across eastern Libya has devastated entire communities on its Mediterranean coastline, causing widespread destruction and an unknown number of fatalities, officials said.
Authorities declared the city of Derna a disaster zone after dams burst and floodwaters inundated neighborhoods early Monday, washing away cars and entire city blocks and leaving a muddy, churning river in their wake.
At least 150 people were killed in Derna as a result of the storm, a tropical-like depression named Daniel, an official with the Libyan Red Crescent said to Reuters, adding that the organization expected the death toll to rise.
Libya is politically and geographically split between east and west and ruled by two rival governments, including a U.N.-backed administration in Tripoli. In eastern Libya, officials said that thousands were believed dead or missing in Derna.
In a choppy phone interview with a local television channel, Osama Hamad, prime minister of the eastern Libyan government, estimated that 2,000 were feared dead but gave no source for the figure.
“We are alerting all medical apparatuses, all medical bodies, to move to Derna,” he said, his voice dipping in and out from poor connection. “There are no communications – I had to leave Derna to get this connection.”
The interior minister in eastern Libya, Issam Abu Zureibah, also said that at least 1,000 people were killed. “The damages are very serious,” he said in an interview with the Saudi Arabia-based news channel Al-Hadath. “There are areas that were swept away entirely into the sea.”
The last instance of large-scale flooding in Libya was in 2019, when four people died in the southwest of the country, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
But Storm Daniel, which wreaked havoc in Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey last week, triggered torrential downpours that overwhelmed infrastructure. Libya’s National Center of Meteorology reported rainfall totals of 414.1 millimeters – more than 16 inches – of rain over 24 hours in Bayda, where at least 12 people were reported dead, according to Floodlist, a website that aggregates flood information. About 170 millimeters of rain – 2.75 inches – fell in Al Abraq in the Derna District.
Witnesses told Reuters that the floodwaters in Derna reached as high as 10 feet.