Quarter of Libyan city wiped out by burst dam, 1,000 bodies recovered so far

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TRIPOLI: Around a quarter of Libya’s eastern city of Derna was wiped out by floods after a dam burst in a storm, and more than 1,000 bodies have been recovered so far, a minister in the administration that controls the east said on Tuesday.

“I returned from Derna. It is very disastrous. Bodies are lying everywhere – in the sea, in the valleys, under the buildings,” Hichem Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation and member of the emergency committee, told Reuters by phone.

“The number of bodies recovered in Derna is more 1,000,” he said. He expected the final toll would be “really, really big”.

“I am not exaggerating when I say that 25% of the city has disappeared. Many, many buildings have collapsed.”.

A Reuters journalist on the way to Derna saw vehicles overturned on the edges of roads, trees knocked down and abandoned, flooded houses. Convoys of aid and assistance were heading towards the city.

Officials in the administration that runs the eastern part of the divided country said on Monday that at least 2,000 people had been killed by the floods, though they did not specify the basis for that estimate.

Officials said thousands more were missing from the flood, which they said had swept away entire neighbourhoods after dams burst above the city.

A video shared on Facebook, which Reuters could not independently verify, appeared to show dozens of bodies covered in blankets on the pavements in Derna.

Libya is politically divided between east and west and public services have crumbled since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that prompted years of conflict.

After pummelling Greece last week, Storm Daniel swept in over the Mediterranean on Sunday, swamping roads and destroying buildings in Derna, and hitting other settlements along the coast, including Libya’s second biggest city of Benghazi.

The internationally recognised government in Tripoli does not control eastern areas but has dispatched aid to Derna, with at least one relief flight leaving from the western city of Misrata on Tuesday, a Reuters journalist on the plane said.

The emergency medical supply plane is carrying 14 tons of supplies, medications, equipment, body bags and 87 medical and paramedical personnel, headed to Benghazi, the head of Libya’s Government of National Unity Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah said on X.

“The news about the severe flooding in Libya is dismaying. Many dead and injured are expected, especially in the east,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz posted on X, saying the country was ready to help.

Egypt, Qatar, Iran and Italy were among the countries that said they were ready to send aid. The United States also said it was coordinating with U.N. partners and Libyan authorities on how to assist relief efforts.

The former U.N. acting envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, urged quick foreign aid, saying the disaster “requires an urgent ramp up in international and regional assistance” in a post on X.

Reporting by Tarek Amara in Tunisia and Ayman Werfali near Derna; Additional reporting by Friedrieke Heine and Angus McDowall; Writing by Tom Perry and Ingrid Melander Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff

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