The death toll from flooding that hit the eastern Libyan city of Derna has reached more than 5,000 and is expected to rise further, a local health official said.

The update came as authorities struggled to get aid to the coastal city where thousands remained missing and tens of thousands were homeless.

Aid workers who managed to reach the city, which was cut off on Sunday night when flash floods washed away most of the access roads, described devastation in the city’s centre, where search and rescue teams combed shattered apartment buildings for bodies and retrieved floating bodies offshore.


“Bodies are everywhere, inside houses, in the streets, at sea. Wherever you go, you find dead men, women and children,” said Emad al-Falah, an aid worker from Benghazi. “Entire families were lost.”

Storm Daniel caused deadly flooding in many towns of eastern Libya, but the worst-hit was Derna.

As the storm pounded the coast on Sunday, residents said they heard loud explosions when the dams outside the city collapsed.

Floodwaters washed down Wadi Derna, a river running from the mountains through the city and into the sea.

A satellite photo shows flooding in Derna, Libya A satellite photo shows flooding in Derna, Libya (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

“The city of Derna was submerged by waves seven metres (23 feet) high that destroyed everything in their path,” said Yann Fridez, head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Libya. “The human toll is enormous.”

Derna lies on a narrow coastal plain on the Mediterranean under steep mountains running along the coast. Only two roads from the south remain usable, and they involve a long, winding route through the mountains.

Aid teams with some supplies managed to get in that way, but local emergency workers otherwise were relying on whatever equipment they already had on hand. Collapsed bridges split the city centre, further hampering movements.

Ossama Ali, a spokesman for the Ambulance and Emergency Centre in eastern Libya, said at least 5,100 deaths were recorded in Derna, along with around 100 others elsewhere in eastern Libya.

More than 7,000 people were injured in the city, most receiving treatment in field hospitals that authorities and aid agencies set up, he told the Associated Press.

Floods in LibyaRescue teams were working day and night to recover bodies scattered in the streets (Jamal Alkomaty/AP)

The number of deaths is likely to increase since search and rescue teams are still collecting bodies from the streets, buildings and the sea, he said.

At least 30,000 people in Derna were displaced by the flooding, the UN migration agency said. The damage is so extensive that the city is almost inaccessible for humanitarian aid workers, the International Organisation for Migration said.

The startling devastation pointed to 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 the result has been neglect of infrastructure in many areas.

“This is a disaster of every sense of the word,” said a survivor who lost 11 members of his family.

Ahmed Abdalla, another survivor who joined the search and rescue effort, said they were putting bodies in the yard of a local hospital before taking them for burial in mass graves at the city’s sole intact cemetery.

Cars and rubble in a street in Derna, LibyaThe storm caused deadly flooding in many eastern towns, but the worst-hit was Derna (Libyan government via AP)

“The situation is indescribable. Entire families dead in this disaster. Some were washed away to the sea,” he said by phone from Derna.

Bulldozers worked over the past two days to fix and clear roads to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and heavy equipment urgently needed for the search and rescue operations. Derna is 150 miles east of Benghazi, where international aid started to arrive on Tuesday.

Libya’s neighbours, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, have sent rescue teams and humanitarian aid.

President Joe Biden also said the United States is sending emergency funds to relief organisations and co-ordinating with the Libyan authorities and the UN to provide additional support.

Authorities have transferred hundreds of bodies to morgues in nearby towns.

In the city of Tobruk, 105 miles east of Derna, the Medical Centre of Tobruk’s morgue received more than 300 bodies for people killed in the Derna flooding. Among them were 84 Egyptians, according to a list of dead obtained by the Associated Press.

The city of Derna was devastated by floods The city of Derna was devastated by floods (Jamal Alkomaty/AP)

Dozens of bodies of Egyptians killed in the floods were returned to their home country. Most of the dead are from one village, el-Sharif, in the southern province of Beni Suef.

They were buried on Wednesday morning following a mass funeral attended by hundreds of villagers. Four of the dead were buried at another funeral in the Nile Delta province of Beheira.

Among the dead was the family of Saleh Sariyeh, 62, a Palestinian from the refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in Lebanon, whose home was washed away in the floods, his nephew Mohammed Sariyeh told the Associated Press.

Mohammed Sariyeh said his uncle had been living for decades in Derna with his wife, Sanaa Jammal, and two daughters, Walaa, 27, and Hoda, 25, and were all killed on Monday.

He added that friends called them from Libya telling the family that his uncle’s apartment was in a building in the city centre that was washed away during the storm.

At least 10,000 people were still missing in the city, according to Tamer Ramadan, Libya envoy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

He said 40,000 people have been displaced in Derna and other towns affected by the floods in eastern Libya.