Communications were severed Tuesday to the flood-hit Libyan city of Derna and journalists were asked to leave, a day after hundreds protested against authorities they blamed for the thousands of deaths.
A tsunami-sized flash flood broke through two aging river dams upstream from the city on the night of September 10 and razed entire neighborhoods, sweeping untold thousands into the Mediterranean Sea.
Telephone and internet links provided by Libya’s two operators had been disconnected in Derna since 1 am on Tuesday, a journalist said after getting out of the city.
Authorities had asked most journalists to leave Derna and hand over permits that had allowed them to cover the disaster, the same source said.
The restrictions came after protesters had massed at the city’s grand mosque, venting their anger at authorities they blamed for failing to maintain the dams or to provide early warning of the disaster.
“Thieves and traitors must hang,” they shouted before some protesters torched the house of the town’s unpopular mayor.
The national telecom company LPTIC said communications were down as a result of “a rupture in the optical fiber” link to Derna.
The company said the outage, which also affected other areas in eastern Libya, “could be the result of a deliberate act of sabotage” and pledged that “our teams are working to repair it as quickly as possible”.
Rescue workers have kept digging for bodies, with the official death toll put at 3,351 and many thousands more missing since the flood caused by torrential rains from Mediterranean Storm Daniel.
Fourteen rescue teams were still at work in Derna, including 10 from abroad, said Mohamed Eljarh, spokesperson for the committee leading the emergency response.
He denied rumors of an imminent evacuation of the city, saying that only the most affected areas had been “isolated”.
The huge wall of water that smashed into Derna completely destroyed 891 buildings and damaged over 600 more, according to a Libyan government report based on satellite images.