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At least 2,300 dead in 'epic' Libya floods, thousands more missing

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BENGHAZI: At least 2,300 people were killed in Libya and thousands more were reported missing after catastrophic flash floods broke river dams and tore though an eastern coastal city, devastating entire neighbourhoods.

As global concern spread, multiple nations offered to urgently send aid and rescue teams to help the war-scarred country that has been overwhelmed by what one UN official labelled "a calamity of epic proportions".

Massive destruction shattered the Mediterranean coastal city of Derna, home to 100,000 people, where multi-storey buildings on the river banks collapsed and houses and cars vanished in the raging waters.

Libyan emergency services on the ground reported an initial death toll of more than 2,300 in Derna alone and said more than 5,000 people remained missing while about 7,000 were injured.

"The situation in Derna is shocking and very dramatic," said Osama Ali of the Tripoli-based Rescue and Emergency Service. "We need more support to save lives because there are people still under the rubble and every minute counts."

The floods were caused by torrential rains from Storm Daniel, which made landfall in Libya on Sunday.

Derna, 250 kilometres west of Benghazi, is ringed by hills and bisected by what is normally a dry riverbed in summer, but which has turned into a raging torrent of mud-brown water that also swept away several major bridges.

The number of dead given by the Libyan service roughly matched the grim early estimates provided by the Red Cross and by local authorities in the eastern region, who have warned the death toll may yet rise further.

"The death toll is huge and might reach thousands," Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies earlier told reporters.

"We confirm from our independent sources of information that the number of missing people is hitting 10,000 persons so far," Ramadan said.

Footage on Libyan TV showed dozens of bodies, wrapped in blankets or sheets, on Derna's main square, awaiting identification and burial, and more bodies in Martouba, a village about 30 kilometres to the southeast.

More than 300 victims were buried Monday, many in mass graves -- but vastly greater numbers of people were feared lost in the waters of the river that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

Access to the eastern region is limited. Phone and online links have been largely severed, but the administration's prime minister Oussama Hamad has reported "more than 2,000 dead and thousands missing" in Derna alone. — AFP

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