Rescuers intensify search to recover Libya flood victims

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Search teams combed streets, wrecked buildings, and even the sea Wednesday to look for bodies in a coastal Libyan city where the collapse of two dams unleashed a massive flash flood that killed at least 5,100 people.

The Mediterranean city of Derna has struggled to get help after Sunday night’s deluge washed away most access roads. Aid workers who managed to reach the city described the devastation in its centre, with thousands still missing and tens of thousands left homeless.

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

Mediterranean storm Daniel caused deadly flooding Sunday in many towns of eastern Libya, but the worst hit was Derna. Two dams in the mountains above the city collapsed, sending floodwaters roaring down the Wadi Derna River and through the city centre, sweeping away entire city blocks.

As much as a quarter of the city has disappeared, emergency officials said.

Waves rose as high as seven metres (23 feet), Yann Fridez, head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Libya, told broadcaster France24.

Teacher Mohammed Derna said he, his family and neighbours rushed to the roof of their apartment building, stunned at the volume of water rushing by. It reached the second storey of many buildings, he said. They watched people below, including women and children being washed away.

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“They were screaming, ‘Help, help,’” he said over the phone from a field hospital in Derna. “It was like a Hollywood horror movie.”

Derna lies on a narrow coastal plain, under steep mountains. The only two usable roads from the south take a winding route through the mountains.

Collapsed bridges over the river split the city centre, further hampering movement.

Search teams went through shattered apartment buildings and retrieved the dead floating offshore in the Mediterranean Sea, al-Falah said.

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