Officials in eastern Libya say more than 5,200 people were killed after a powerful storm smashed through towns and villages on Monday.
The force of Storm Daniel, and the flooding that accompanied it, burst two dams and sent three-metre high walls of water into Derna, a coastal city with a population of 100,000.
Local officials say nearly a quarter of the city’s buildings were swept into the sea, taking many residents with them.
“In the city of Derna alone, there are more than two thousand deceased, and we pray for their souls,” said Ahmed al-Mosmari, spokesman for Libya’s eastern-based armed forces.
Entire families have been reported dead or missing.
“There are still thousands of missing people in Derna, from five to six thousand missing, and this number can increase very significantly,” al-Mosmari added.
Images from the ground show destruction on a huge scale. Officials say entire neighbourhoods, especially ones located along the River Derna that runs down from the mountains through the city, were swept away.
Other cities in eastern Libya were also hit, including Libya’s second-biggest city of Benghazi. Some villages remain out of contact.
Rescue efforts hampered
Libya is divided between two rival administrations, in the east and in the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. Despite the divide, aid is being sent from West to East in response to the disaster, but reaching Derna is difficult. Roads and communications were cut off by the storm.
Othman Abduljaleel, the health minister in Libya’s eastern-based administration, said the situation was “catastrophic” in the area.
“The bodies are still lying on the ground in many parts. Hospitals are filled with bodies, and there are areas we have yet to reach,” he told Libyan state media.
Another health official, who asked not to be named, told Anadolu Agency: “The only operational hospital in Derna is now out of service. Corpses were transferred to field hospitals where they are still lying.”
The total collapse of infrastructure in the east, which was already weakened from years of conflict, has made rescue efforts difficult and dangerous. Many bridges have been swept away and the roads to Derna are largely impassable.
The Libyan Red Crescent said three of its volunteers died while trying to help families stranded by the floods.
Libya’s government has declared the eastern Cyrenaica province as a disaster area and asked for international assistance.
Several Muslim nations, including Algeria, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt and Iran have offered help in the form of aid and rescue teams. The EU has also offered assistance.