The Libyan government appealed for international help to put out a fire at a huge oil depot set off by clashes near the country’s Tripoli airport.
The interim government said in a statement posted on its website that the fighting between rival militias caused the huge blaze, which could trigger a “humanitarian and environmental disaster”.
It appealed for “international help” but did not specify what exactly the government wants the world to do.
Libyan TV stations called on residents to evacuate areas within a three-mile radius of the airport. Many Libyan families responded to the call and scrambled to leave their homes. Social networking sites posted images of black smoke billowing over the skyline.
The battle for control of the airport began two weeks ago when Islamist-led militias launched a surprise assault on the airport, which has been under control of a rival militia from the western mountain town of Zintan. The Health Ministry said on Sunday that the fighting has so far killed 79 people and wounded more than 400. On Saturday, the US evacuated its diplomats from Tripoli to Tunisia and shut its embassy. The UN Support Mission in Libya and the International Committee of the Red Cross have already withdrawn their staff as well.
Mohammed al-Harari, the spokesman for the Libyan National Oil Company, said the oil depot that was set on fire has a capacity of 6 million litres and that if the fire was not controlled, it could ignite nearby liquid gas storages.
Firefighting engines from several nearby cities and towns have been deployed to help extinguish the blaze, said a Libyan security official. The fire, which he claimed was now under control, had also destroyed several government and private cars in the area.
German embassy staff in Tripoli were evacuated on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Sawsan Chebli said in Berlin. They will be sent back “as soon as the security situation allows,” she said.
Germany had urged its citizens on Saturday to leave Libya immediately.