More than 5,300 people are feared dead after devastating flooding struck Libya.
A quarter of the eastern city of Derna was wiped out by floodwaters after dams burst as Storm Daniel hit the country, the local administration said, with more than 1,500 bodies recovered so far.
There are fears the number of those killed will rise further, with 10,000 people reported missing after entire neighbourhoods were washed away.
More than 5,300 people in Derna alone have been killed, according to Mohammed Abu-Lamousha, a spokesman for the east Libya interior ministry.
Derna’s ambulance authority earlier put the number at 2,300.
Images showed a mass grave piled with bodies.
Derna has been declared a disaster zone.
Tamer Ramadan, head of the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) in Libya, said: “We can confirm from our independent sources of information that the number of missing people is hitting 10,000 so far.
“The death toll is huge and might reach thousands.”
He added that conditions in Libya were “as devastating as the situation in Morocco“, which has been recently hit by a powerful earthquake.
He later said that more than 40,000 people have been displaced.
The Red Cross secretary general and chief executive, Jagan Chapagain, said on Tuesday three volunteers from its Libya chapter had died while trying to help families impacted by flooding.
Outside help was only just starting to reach Derna on Tuesday, more than 36 hours after the disaster struck.
‘Bodies lying everywhere’
Hichem Abu Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation in the eastern administration, said: “I returned from Derna. It is very disastrous.
“Bodies are lying everywhere – in the sea, in the valleys, under the buildings.”
Entire residential blocks were erased along Wadi Derna, a river that runs down from the mountains through the city centre.
Even multi-storey apartment buildings that stood well back from the river partially collapsed into the mud.
Cars lifted by the flood were left dumped on top of each other.
Othman Abduljaleel, eastern Libya’s health minister, said Derna was inaccessible and bodies were scattered across it, Libya’s state-run news agency reported.
“The situation was more significant and worse than we expected… An international intervention is needed,” he was quoted as saying.
Extent of disaster just beginning to dawn
It has taken time but it’s now quickly becoming clear to the outside world that Libya is facing a significant humanitarian catastrophe.
Storm Daniel has already caused chaos in southern Europe but the flooding in the east of the country may be even worse.
The disaster has been compounded by the problems Libya is already facing – years of war since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted have left the fractured nation in no place to deal with this terrible climatic event.
We don’t really know the numbers of dead – it’s definitely in the thousands but that tragic figure could rise much higher.
Aid agencies are pointing to the collapse of two dams in the coastal city of Derna as the reason for the worst of the devastation.
At least 10,000 people are missing according to the Red Crescent.
Reaching the areas worst affected is not easy – the swollen rivers and intense flash flooding have swept away roads and homes.
There are reports entire communities have been washed away into the sea.
Any relief effort will be also complicated by the political divisions that exist.
An internationally recognised government sits in the capital Tripoli but the east is administered – where Derna is located – by a different authority.
There are signs of aid moving from the capital eastwards, but for people in the flooded areas it cannot come quick enough.
It may be days before we know the true extent of this disaster and they get the help they need.
‘Never felt as frightened’
At Tripoli airport in northwest Libya, one woman broke down in tears as she found out most of her family were dead or missing.
Her brother-in-law, Walid Abdulati, said “we are not speaking about one or two people dead, but up to 10 members of each family dead”.
Karim al Obaidi, a passenger on a plane from Tripoli to the east, said he has “never felt as frightened” and that he has lost contact with family.
People were searching for bodies and men in a rubber boat retrieved one from the sea, footage broadcast by Libyan TV station al Masar showed.
“We have nothing to save people… no machines… we are asking for urgent help,” said Khalifah Touil, an ambulance worker.
Derna, on Libya’s eastern Mediterranean coast, is bisected by a seasonal river that flows from highlands to the south, and it is normally protected from flooding by dams.
Derna is about 560 miles east of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and is controlled by the forces of powerful military commander Khalifa Hifter, who is allied with the east Libya government.
West Libya, including Tripoli, is controlled by armed groups connected to another administration.