Deadly floods swept through northeastern Libya over the weekend, with the top official in the region warning that the toll could exceed 2,000 dead as rescue teams searched for survivors.
Exact figures on the scale of fatalities were difficult because of ongoing search efforts on Monday, a spokesman for authorities in that region said on Monday evening, but they believed that more than 2,000 are dead or missing.
The authorities have confirmed only 27 deaths so far. Libya has been divided between an internationally recognized government based in Tripoli in the west and a separately administered region in the east.
It was not immediately clear what the head of the divided country’s eastern region, Osama Hamad, or the spokesman, were basing their numbers on. But the flooding was centered in the region under Mr. Hamad’s administration, with parts of it declared a disaster zone in the aftermath and rescuers struggling to gain access to the area to provide help.
The internationally recognized authority in western Libya, in Tripoli, did not put out fatality figures, but its leaders held an emergency meeting on Monday on the crisis and said they had sent ambulances, rescue convoys and doctors to the area. They declared three days of mourning for the victims of the flooding.
Heavy rainfall over the weekend in the country’s northeast swelled waters past riverbanks, and officials said the force of the floodwaters swept away hundreds of homes and washed away roads. Stranded residents posted accounts of being trapped inside homes and cars, according to footage on social media.
“Entire neighborhoods have been swept away by the sea, and entire neighborhoods have disappeared with their inhabitants,” Mr. Hamad said in a phone interview with the Libyan television channel al-Masar on Monday from the port city of Derna in eastern Libya, among one of the worst-hit cities.
The flooding also ravaged other areas, including the cities of Al-Bayda and Shahhat, where the rising waters forced more evacuations. One medical center in Al-Bayda said it had been forced to move patients, and it shared footage of workers desperately trying to sweep floodwaters outside of submerged hallways.
Local officials in Derna have declared the area a disaster zone, with large parts of the city having been submerged in water. Roads into the city have been cut off, and two dams in the city collapsed, the City Council confirmed on Monday on its Facebook page. It called for the opening of a maritime passageway to the coastal city and for urgent international intervention.
“The situation is catastrophic,” the Council said. “The city of Derna is pleading for help.”
Residents of the area described chaotic scenes.
“What has happened is a tragedy and a humanitarian catastrophe for us,” said Mohammed Jadallah, a Derna resident who woke up his three children and fled the city on Sunday night after water began seeping into his home from the intensifying rain. Since then, with communications down, he has been unable to reach his siblings and has been unable to return to Derna because of the collapsed roads.
“We don’t know where our families are, we don’t have homes, and we’ve heard that there are a significant number of casualties,” he said “We have become displaced.”
Many of the victims’ bodies in Derna had been scattered through the city by the flooding, said Mohammed Abulammousha, a spokesman for the Hamad administration’s interior ministry. In a phone interview on Monday evening, he said he had witnessed “horrifying scenes.”
He cited a shortage of rescue capabilities and difficulties getting to some of the affected areas. But he added that the authorities were trying to rescue survivors, provide them with food and evacuate them from the city’s devastated areas.
“We call on international organizations and countries to assist us in the catastrophe that has befallen the city,” he said.
Some foreign governments and aid groups offered to help. The U.S. embassy in Libya said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that they were in close contact with the United Nations and Libyan authorities to quickly bring assistance. An emergency team was being prepared to support local authorities and parties, said Georgette Gagnon, the U.N’s humanitarian coordinator.
The United Arab Emirates also said it would send urgent relief and rescue teams to Libya, according to the Emirati state news agency.
The drenching rains were part of a weather front that had unleashed major flooding in Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria last week, sweeping away buildings and killing more than a dozen people before moving toward Libya.