Hunt for Libya flood victims continues as death toll rises past 5,000

In the city of Derna, bodies are being pulled out of mud and rubble but thousands remain missing

Rescue teams search for victims in flood-hit Libyan city of Derna

Rescue teams search for victims in flood-hit Libyan city of Derna
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Survivors of the devastating floods in the Libyan city of Derna continued their desperate search for family members in the ruins of the city on Wednesday, as the death toll rose past 5,000.

Whole sections of the Mediterranean city were obliterated by a torrent of water unleashed by a powerful storm that swept down a dry riverbed on Sunday night and burst through dams above the city.

With many people swept out to sea by the floods and search operations limited by difficulty getting outside help due to damaged access roads, estimates of the number of people missing range between 5,000 and 10,000.

Usama Al Husadi, a 52-year-old driver, has been searching for his wife and five children since the disaster in Libya.

“I went by foot searching for them … I went to all hospitals and schools but no luck,” he told Reuters, with his head in his hands.

Mr Al Husadi, who had been working on 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
Usama Al Husadi, Derna resident

“We lost at least 50 members from my father’s family, between missing and dead,” he said.

The city beachfront was littered with clothes, toys, furniture, shoes and other possessions swept out of homes by the flood.

Streets were covered in deep mud and strewn with uprooted trees and hundreds of wrecked cars, many lying on their sides or upside down. One car was wedged on the second-storey 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,” Mr Bujmila said.

Rescue teams have arrived from the UAE, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Qatar, said Derna Mayor Abdulmenam Al Ghaithi.

“We actually need teams specialised in recovering bodies,” he said. “I fear that the city will be infected with an epidemic due to the large number of bodies under the rubble and in the water.”

Rescue operations are complicated by deep political fractures in the country, where an internationally recognised Government of National Unity is based in Tripoli, in the west, while a parallel administration operates in the east, including Derna.

Death tolls given by officials so far have also varied, but all are in the thousands.

Hichem Abu Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation in the administration that runs eastern Libya, told Reuters that 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.

Tariq Kharaz, a spokesman for Libya’s eastern authorities, said 3,200 bodies had been recovered and 1,100 of them had yet to be identified.

The bodies of dozens of Egyptian migrants who were among the victims of the storm in Libya arrived on Wednesday in Beni Suef, about 110km south of Cairo, Egyptian media reported.

Updated: September 14, 2023, 4:40 AM