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More than 5,300 bodies have been recovered from the eastern Libyan city devastated by floods that swept away buildings, roads and bridges, according to a Libyan official.
Hichem Abu Chkiouat, civil aviation minister in the administration that runs eastern Libya, told Reuters the death toll was expected to rise as the “sea is constantly dumping dozens of bodies” in Derna, on Libya’s Mediterranean coast.
The city of 100,000 people was the worst hit after Storm Daniel struck the north African country at the weekend. The floods in Derna had been exacerbated by the collapse of two dams, officials said, with torrents of water flowing through the city and destroying entire districts.
Officials in Libya, a dysfunctional state with rival governments in the east and west, have given varying numbers for the death toll as they seek to recover bodies hidden beneath rubble and mud. But thousands of people are believed to have perished. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said on Tuesday that 10,000 people were thought to be missing.
Officials have said rescue workers have struggled to reach parts of Derna because main roads had been washed away and turned into rivers. Electricity and communications within the city were also cut.
Videos and images posted on social media showed huge destruction, with buildings reduced to rubble and vehicles overturned. Corpses in plastic body bags were lined up on the ground.
The International Organization for Migration said on Wednesday that more than 30,000 people had been displaced by the flooding.
Libya has been blighted by years of chaos and conflict in the years since dictator Muammer Gaddafi was toppled after a 2011 popular uprising. That morphed into civil war as rival factions carved the oil-rich country into a patchwork of fiefdoms.
The country has competing governments based in Tripoli, the capital, and eastern Libya, which has for years been under the control of Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general who leads the Libyan National Army.
The divisions have rippled across public institutions, leaving the state weak and fractured. Western states do not typically engage with the eastern administration, as the UN-backed government in Tripoli is considered the internationally recognised authority.
Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian chief, said on social media the storm had “claimed thousands of lives” and that the UN was allocating $10mn in emergency funds to support the relief efforts.
US president Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Washington was sending emergency funds to agencies working on the disaster.
Turkey has dispatched three cargo planes to the city of Benghazi, with 168 search and rescue specialists and other aid including tents, generators, raincoats and torches. Neighbouring Egypt has also said it will send soldiers and helicopters to help with recovery work.