Thousands buried in mass graves in Libya’s Derna as rescuers scour the area

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The Libyan city of Derna buried thousands of people in mass graves as search teams scoured the area after devastating floods that killed at least 5,100 people, a health official said Thursday.

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Mediterranean storm Daniel caused deadly flooding in many eastern towns, but the worst-hit was Derna.

As the storm pounded the coast Sunday night, Derna residents said they heard loud explosions when the dams outside the city collapsed. Floodwaters washed down Wadi Derna, a valley that cuts through the city, crumbling buildings and washing people out to sea.

Health authorities have put the death toll in Derna at 5,100 as of Wednesday. The number of deaths was likely to climb as there are least 9,000 people still missing, said Ossama Ali, a spokesman for an ambulance center in eastern Libya.

The floods have displaced at least 30,000 people in Derna, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, and several thousand others were forced to leave their homes in other eastern towns, the UN agency said.

General view of flood water covering the area as a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit al-Mukhaili, Libya, on September 11, 2023, in this handout picture. (Reuters)
General view of flood water covering the area as a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit al-Mukhaili, Libya, on September 11, 2023, in this handout picture. (Reuters)

The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to Derna, hampering the arrival of international rescue teams and humanitarian assistance.
The startling devastation reflected the storm’s intensity, but also Libya’s vulnerability. The country is divided by rival governments — one in the east, the other in the west — and one result has been widespread neglect of infrastructure.

The dams that collapsed outside Derna were built in the 1970s and have not been maintained for years, local media reported.
More than 3,000 bodies were buried by Thursday morning, said eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel, while another 2,000 were still being processed. He said most of the dead were buried in mass graves outside Derna, while others were transferred to nearby towns and cities.

He said rescue teams were still searching wrecked buildings in the city center, and divers combing seawater off Derna. The storm hit other areas in eastern Libya, including the towns of Bayda, Susa, Um Razaz and Marj, leaving around 170 dead, the health minister said.

The dead in eastern Libya included at least 84 Egyptians, who were transferred to their home country on Wednesday.

More than 70 came from one village in the southern province of Beni Suef. Libyan media also said dozens of Sudanese migrants were killed in the disaster.

Read more:

Number of deaths in Libyan city of Derna could reach 20,000: Mayor

IOM Libya says at least 30,000 individuals displaced in Derna by storm Daniel

Death toll from floods in Libya’s Derna exceeds 5,300, may even double: Minister

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