VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a severe storm set off flooding that breached dams in eastern Libya, leading to the deaths of thousands of people, Pope Francis sent his condolences and urged all people to pray and to offer concrete assistance.
Addressing pilgrims and visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square Sept. 13 for his weekly general audience, Pope Francis spoke about the intense storm that made landfall in Libya Sept. 10, leading to two dams bursting near the city of Derna, unleashing torrents of water that wiped out a huge section of the city.
Local officials said Sept. 13 that the death toll had risen above 5,100 and was expected to increase as thousands of people were still missing.
"I invite you to join my prayers for those who have lost their lives, for their families and for the displaced people," the pope said at his general audience. "May we not fail in our solidarity with these brothers and sisters, tried by such a devastating calamity."
The pope's concern was expressed a day earlier in a telegram to Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, the nuncio to Libya.
"His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the immense loss of life and destruction caused by the flooding in the eastern part of Libya, and he sends the assurance of his prayers for the souls of the deceased and all who mourn their loss," said the telegram signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. "His Holiness also expresses heartfelt spiritual closeness to the injured, to those who fear for their missing loved ones and to the emergency personnel providing rescue and relief assistance."
Tamer Ramadan, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Libya, told reporters the death toll is likely to be "huge," the BBC reported Sept. 12.