Unprecedented flooding has taken more than 5,000 lives in Libya. With at least 9,000 people still missing, officials believe the death toll will rise.
Search teams are scouring streets, damaged buildings and even the sea, looking for bodies.
“This entire city has been destroyed. There are victims still under the rubble, and some are in the sea,” said Mohamed Salem, a resident of Derna, the city that took the worst hit in the flooding.
“There are bodies buried in mass graves because the cemeteries are full,” he continued.
Health officials fear an outbreak of disease with the large number of bodies yet to be recovered. The city’s mayor says up to 20,000 people may have been swept away by the floodwaters.
The tragedy unfolded when Mediterranean storm Daniel pounded the Libyan coast Sunday night, causing devastating flooding. Two dams in the mountains above Derna collapsed, sending raging waters through the city, washing out entire neighborhoods.
Emergency officials report the flooding wiped out a quarter of the city. Aid workers report thousands are still missing, and tens of thousands are without homes.
Now, residents are pleading for international help.
“The United Nations, relief agencies, and the World Health Organization need to step in with aid for our city,” said Abdalmula Suakr, another resident of Derna. “The state alone cannot handle this.”
“We need to be clear about that; our resources are limited,” he continued. “Many have come forward to help with what they can, but we are looking for help from organizations like the United Nations.”
Flood victims say the only warning was the loud explosions when the dams outside Derna broke. The intense flooding showed the power of the storm but also exposed Libya’s weaknesses.
Rival governments divide the country, leading to nationwide neglect of infrastructure. Local media report the dams that broke outside Derna were built in the 1970s and have not been maintained for years.