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2,000 people are feared dead in flooding in eastern Libya after weekend storm, prime minister says

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CAIRO (AP) — As many as 2,000 people are feared dead in Libya after Mediterranean storm Daniel caused devastating floods that swept away entire neighborhoods and wrecked homes in multiple coastal towns in the North African nation, one of Libya’s leaders said Monday.

The confirmed death toll from the weekend flooding stood at 38, according to health authorities. But the tally did not include Derna, the worst hit city, which had become inaccessible.

Video by Derna residents posted online showed major devastation. Entire residential blocks areas were erased along Wadi Derna, a river that runs down from the mountains through the city center. Multi-story apartment buildings once well back from the river were partially collapsed into the mud.

In a phone interview with al-Masar television station Monday, Prime Minister Ossama Hamad of the east Libyan government said that 2,000 were feared dead in Derna, and thousands were believed missing. He said Derna has been declared a disaster zone.

At least 23 people were reported dead in the eastern town of Bayda, the town’s main medical center said. Another seven people were reported dead in the coastal town of Susa in northeastern Libya, according to the Ambulance and Emergency Authority. Seven others were reported dead in the towns of Shahatt and Omar al-Mokhtar, the minister said.

The Libyan Red Crescent said it lost contact with one of its workers as he attempted to help a stuck family in Bayda. Dozens of others were reported missing, and authorities fear they could have died in the floods that destroyed homes and other properties in several towns in eastern Libya, according to local media.

Derna, which was the worst hit, has become inaccessible and local media reported that the situation there was catastrophic with no electricity or communications. Footage circulated on social media show flooding sweeping away residential buildings and other properties.

Essam Abu Zeriba, the interior minister of the east Libya government, said more than 5,000 people were expected to be missing in Derna. He said many of the victims were swept away towards the Mediterranean.

In a telephone interview on the Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al-Arabiya, he urged local and international agencies to rush to help the city.

Over the weekend, Libyans shared footage on social media showing flooded houses and roads in many areas across eastern Libya. They pleaded for help as floods besieged people inside their homes and in their vehicles.

Ossama Hamad, the prime minister of the east Libya government, declared Derna a disaster zone after heavy rainfall and floods destroyed much of the city which is located in the delta of the small Wadi Derna on Libya’s east coast.

He also government declared a state of emergency Saturday and suspended classes as a precaution ahead of the storm, which made landfall overnight.

The prime minister announced Monday a three-day of mourning and ordered flags across the country to be lowered to half-mast.

Controlling eastern and western Libya, Cmdr. Khalifa Hifter deployed troops to help residents in Benghazi and other eastern towns. Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesperson for Hifter’s forces, said they lost contact with five troops who were helping besieged families in Bayda.

Libya, a country with over 6 million people, suffers from debilitating infrastructure after more than a decade of conflict. The Mediterranean nation has plunged into chaos since a NATO-supported uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi who was later killed.

The oil-rich country has been divided for most of the past decade between rival administrations in the east and west. Each administration is backed by armed groups and militias, and foreign governments.

Storm Daniel is expected to arrive in parts of west Egypt on Monday, and the country’s meteorological authorities warned about possible rain and bad weather.

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