Massive destruction has shattered the Libyan coastal city of Derna, home to about 100,000 people, where multistorey buildings on the river banks collapsed and houses and cars vanished in the raging floodwaters.
Emergency services under the divided country’s internationally recognised government reported an initial death toll of more than 2,300 in Derna alone and said more than 5,000 people remained missing while about 7,000 were injured.
But officials from the rival government in eastern Libya said “thousands” more perished in the floods in Derna and that the death toll could surpass 10,000.
The floods were caused by torrential rains from Storm Daniel, which made landfall in Libya on Sunday after earlier lashing Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.
Derna, 250km (150 miles) east of Benghazi, is ringed by hills and bisected by what is normally a dry riverbed in summer, but which has turned into a raging torrent of mud-brown water that also swept away several major bridges.
“The death toll is huge and might reach thousands,” said Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, adding that 10,000 people were missing.
Elsewhere in Libya’s east, the Norwegian Refugee Council aid group said “entire villages have been overwhelmed by the floods and the death toll continues to rise”.
“Communities across Libya have endured years of conflict, poverty and displacement. The latest disaster will exacerbate the situation for these people. Hospitals and shelters will be overstretched.”