DERNA: Residents of the devastated Libyan city of Derna desperately searched for missing relatives on Wednesday (Sep 13) and rescue workers appealed for more body bags, after a catastrophic flood that killed thousands of people and swept many out to sea.
Swathes of the Mediterranean city were obliterated by a torrent of water unleashed by a powerful storm that swept down a usually dry riverbed on Sunday night, bursting dams above the city. Multi-storey buildings collapsed with sleeping families inside.
Officials have put the number of missing at 10,000. The UN aid agency OCHA said the figure was at least 5,000.
Usama Al Husadi, a 52-year-old driver, has been searching for his wife and five children since the disaster. “I went by foot searching for them … I went to all hospitals and schools but no luck,” he told Reuters, weeping with his head in his hands.
Husadi, who had been working the night of the storm, dialled his wife’s phone number once again. It was switched off. “We lost at least 50 members from my father’s family, between missing and dead,” he said.
The beach was littered with clothes, toys, furniture, shoes and other possessions swept out of homes by the torrent.
Streets were covered in deep mud and strewn with uprooted trees and hundreds of wrecked cars, many flipped on their sides or their roofs. One car was wedged on the second-floor balcony of a gutted building.
“I survived with my wife but I lost my sister,” Mohamed Mohsen Bujmila, a 41-year-old engineer, said. “My sister lives downtown where most of the destruction happened. We found the bodies of her husband and son and buried them.”
He also found the bodies of two strangers in his apartment.
As he spoke an Egyptian search-and-rescue team nearby recovered the body of his neighbour. “This is Aunt Khadija, may God grant her heaven,” Bujmila said.
The devastation is clear from high points above Derna, where the densely populated city centre, built along a seasonal riverbed, was now a wide, flat crescent of earth with stretches of muddy water gleaming in the sun. Buildings were swept away.
Death tolls given by officials so far have varied, but all are in the thousands.
Hichem Abu Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation in the administration that runs eastern Libya, told Reuters more than 5,300 dead had been counted so far, and said the number was likely to increase significantly and might even double. The “sea is constantly dumping dozens of bodies”, he said by phone.
Tariq Kharaz, a spokesperson for the eastern authorities, said 3,200 bodies had been recovered, and 1,100 of them had yet to be identified.
Derna Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television the estimated the number of deaths in the city could reach 18,000 to 20,000 based on the number of districts destroyed by the flood.