Libya flood survivors pick through ruins in search of missing thousands

AFP

Survivors of a flood that swept away the centre of a Libyan city picked through the ruins on Thursday in search of loved ones from among thousands of dead and missing, while authorities feared an outbreak of disease.

A torrent unleashed by a powerful storm burst dams on Sunday night and hurtled down a seasonal riverbed that bisects the city, washing multi-storey buildings into the sea with sleeping families inside. Thousands of people are confirmed dead and thousands more missing, with the mayor saying the toll could reach 20,000.

Confirmed death tolls given by officials so far have varied, but all are in the thousands, with thousands more on lists of the missing. Derna Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television the number of deaths in the city could reach 18,000 to 20,000, based on the extent of the damage.

"We actually need teams specialised in recovering bodies," he told Reuters in Derna. "I fear that the city will be infected with an epidemic."

RESCUE TEAMS

Rescue teams have arrived from the UAE, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Qatar, al-Ghaithi said.

Turkey is sending a ship carrying equipment to set up two field hospitals.

The beach was littered with clothes, toys, furniture, shoes and other possessions swept out of homes by the torrent.

Streets were covered in deep mud and strewn with uprooted trees and hundreds of wrecked cars, many flipped on their sides or their roofs. One car was wedged on the second-floor balcony of a gutted building.

The devastation is clear from high points above Derna, where the densely populated city centre was now a wide, flat crescent of earth with stretches of muddy water gleaming in the sun.

Rescue operations are complicated by political fractures in the country of 7 million people that has been at war on-and-off with no strong central government since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

An internationally recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) is based in Tripoli, in the west, while a parallel administration operates in the east, including Derna.

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