BENGHAZHI, Libya: The head of one of Libya's rival governments said on Monday that 2,000 people are feared dead in flooding that swept through the eastern parts of the north African nation.
In a phone interview with Al Masar television station Monday, Prime Minister Ossama Hamad said that 2,000 were feared dead in the eastern city of Derna, and thousands of others are reported missing.
He said the floods have swept away entire neighbourhoods in Derna, which has been declared a disaster zone, after the country was hit by Mediterranean storm Daniel.
“This is besides the massive material damage that struck public and private properties,” a source told AFP.
The confirmed death toll from the weekend flooding stood at 38, according to health authorities. But the tally did not include Derna, the worst hit city, which had become inaccessible.
Video by Derna residents posted online showed major devastation. Entire residential blocks areas were erased along Wadi Derna, a river that runs down from the mountains through the city centre. Multi-story apartment buildings once well back from the river were partially collapsed into the mud.
Hundreds of residents were still believed to be trapped in difficult-to-reach areas as rescuers, backed by the army, were trying to come to their aid.
East Libyan authorities had “lost contact with nine soldiers during rescue operations”, Mohamed Massoud, a spokesman for the Benghazi-based administration in Libya said.
Footage on social media showed people stranded on the roofs of their vehicles while trying get help in heavy floods as Storm Daniel hit the cities of Benghazi, Sousse, Al Bayda, Al Marj and Derna.
“We were asleep, and when we woke up, we found water besieging the house. We are inside and trying to get out,” Derna resident Ahmad Mohammad told Reuters by phone on Monday.
Search and rescue operations were ongoing, witnesses said.
Essam Abu Zeriba, the interior minister of the east Libya government, said more than 5,000 people were expected to be missing in Derna. He said many of the victims were swept away towards the Mediterranean.
In a telephone interview on the Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al-Arabiya, he urged local and international agencies to rush to help the city.
State of emergency
Authorities declared a state of extreme emergency, closing schools and stores and imposing a curfew.
Four major oil ports in Libya, Ras Lanuf, Zueitina, Brega and Es Sidra, were closed from Saturday evening for three days, two oil engineers told Reuters.
The prime minister of the interim government in Tripoli, Abdul Hamid Dbeiba, said on Sunday he had directed all state agencies to immediately deal with the damage and floods in eastern cities.
The United Nations in Libya said it was following the storm closely and would “provide urgent relief assistance in support of response efforts at local and national levels”.
The Libyan Red Crescent said it lost contact with one of its workers as he attempted to help a stuck family in Bayda.
Dozens of others were reported missing, and authorities fear they could have died in the floods that destroyed homes and other properties in several towns in eastern Libya, according to local media.
Ossama Hamad, the prime minister of the east Libya government, has declared Derna a disaster zone after heavy rainfall and floods destroyed much of the city. He also government declared a state of emergency.
The prime minister announced Monday a three-day of mourning and ordered flags across the country to be lowered to half-mast.
Hamad’s government in war-battered Libya rivals a UN-brokered, internationally recognised transitional administration in Tripoli
Troops were deployed to help residents in Benghazi and other eastern towns.
As of Monday afternoon, Derna, which was the worst hit, has become inaccessible and local media reported that the situation there was catastrophic with no electricity or communications.
The storm is expected to arrive in parts of west Egypt on Monday, and the country’s meteorological authorities warned about possible rain and bad weather.