Storm Daniel in the Mediterranean caused floods in Libya that were so bad that they broke dams and washed away whole neighborhoods in several coastal towns in the east of this North African country. One of the country’s leaders said Monday that he thought as many as 2,000 people were dead.
The damage seemed to be the worst in Derna, a city that Islamic extremists used to control. The chaos that has been going on in Libya for more than a decade has left the country with crumbling infrastructure. Libya is still run by two rival governments, one in the east and one in the west. Each of these administrations is supported by rebels and foreign governments.
As of late Monday, health officials said that 61 people had died from the floods over the weekend. But the count didn’t include Derna, which was no longer reachable, and many of the thousands of people who went missing there are thought to have been carried away by water when two dams upstream broke.
Residents of the city shared videos online that showed how bad the damage was. Along a river that flows from the mountains through the city center, whole neighborhoods were wiped out. Apartment buildings with many floors that used to be far from the river are now mostly in the mud.
In a phone conversation with a station on Monday, Ossama Hamad, the Prime Minister of the east Libyan government, said that 2,000 people were thought to be dead in Derna and that thousands were thought to be missing. He said that Derna is now a disaster zone.
A spokesman for the country’s armed forces in the east, Ahmed al-Mosmari, told a news gathering that more than 2,000 people had died in Derna. He said that between 5,000 and 6,000 people were thought to be missing. Al-Mosmari said that the disaster happened because two dams in the area broke, which led to a deadly flash flood.
Extremist groups, including some who swore allegiance to the Islamic State group, ran Derna and the city of Sirte for years until troops loyal to the east-based government drove them out in 2018.
Abdel-Rahim Mazek, who is in charge of the town’s main medical center, said that at least 46 people were found dead in the town of Bayda in the east. The Ambulance and Emergency Authority said that seven more people had died in the northeastern Libyan town of Susa, which is on the coast. The health minister, Osama Abduljaleel, said that seven more people died in the towns of Shahatt and Omar al-Mokhtar. On Sunday, it was said that one person had died in the town of Marj.
The Libyan Red Crescent said that three of its employees died in Derna while helping families. Earlier, the group said that it had lost touch with one of its workers while he was trying to help a family that was stuck in Bayda. Local media say that dozens of other people are missing, and officials are afraid that they may have died in the floods that destroyed homes and other buildings in several towns in eastern Libya.
Local media said that the situation in Derna was terrible because there was no power or phone service.
Essam Abu Zeriba, who is the interior minister for the government of east Libya, said that more than 5,000 people in Derna were thought to be missing. He said that a lot of the people who died were carried toward the Mediterranean.
“The situation is tragic,” he said in a phone interview with the Saudi-owned satellite news station Al-Arabiya. He asked groups in the area and around the world to move quickly to help the city.
Georgette Gagnon, the U.N. humanitarian chief for Libya, said that early reports showed that dozens of villages and towns were “severely affected… with widespread flooding, damage to infrastructure, and loss of life.”
“I am very upset by how bad (storm) Daniel has been for the country. “I’m calling on all local, national, and international partners to work together to help people in eastern Libya right away,” she wrote on the X platform, which used to be called Twitter.
In a post on X, the U.S. Embassy in Libya said it was in touch with both U.N. and Libyan officials and was figuring out how to get aid to the most affected areas.
Over the weekend, Libyans posted videos of flooded homes and roads in many parts of eastern Libya on social media. People in their homes and cars were getting flooded, and they begged for help.