CAIRO – Rescue workers discovered hundreds of bodies in the rubble of the city of Derna in eastern Libya on Tuesday, raising fears the toll could skyrocket as 10,000 people are still reported missing after floods breached levees and had washed away entire quarters of the city.
Daniel pointed to the intensity of the storm but also the vulnerability of a nation torn apart in chaos for more than a decade. The country is divided by rival governments, one in the east, the other in the west, and the result is infrastructure neglect in many areas.
On Tuesday, more than 36 hours after the disaster, outside help was just arriving in Derna. The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to the coastal city with around 89,000 inhabitants.
Footage showed dozens of bodies covered with blankets in a hospital courtyard. Another image showed a mass grave full of corpses. More than 1,000 bodies have been collected, including at least 700 that have been buried so far, the health minister for eastern Libya said. The Derna Ambulance Authority put the current death toll at 2,300.
But the number of victims is likely to be even higher, running into the thousands, said Tamer Ramadan, Libya’s envoy to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. At a UN briefing in Geneva, he announced via video conference from Tunisia that at least 10,000 people were still missing. He said later on Tuesday that more than 40,000 people had been displaced.
The situation in Libya is “just as devastating as the situation in Morocco,” Ramadan said, referring to the deadly earthquake that struck near the city of Marrakesh on Friday evening.
The destruction occurred on Sunday night in Derna and other parts of eastern Libya. As the storm raged across the coast, residents of Derna said they heard loud explosions and realized that dams outside the town had collapsed. Flash floods were triggered in Wadi Derna, a river that flowed from the mountains through the city to the sea.
The wall of water “obliterated everything that came in its path,” said one resident, Ahmed Abdalla.
Videos posted online by residents showed large swaths of mud and debris where the raging waters had washed away neighborhoods on both banks of the river. Multi-story homes that were once far from the river had their facades torn down and their concrete floors collapsed. Cars lifted by the flood were left lying on top of each other.
Libya’s National Metrological Center said Tuesday that it had issued early warnings of Storm Daniel, an “extreme weather event,” 72 hours before it occurred and notified all government authorities by email and through the media… “and urged them to “It said Bayda received a record rainfall of 414.1 millimeters (16.3 inches) from Sunday to Monday.
On Tuesday, local emergency responders, including troops, government workers, volunteers and residents, dug through the rubble for the dead. They also used inflatable boats to retrieve bodies from the water.
Many bodies were probably trapped under rubble or washed into the Mediterranean, said eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel.
“We were stunned by the extent of the destruction … the tragedy is very significant and exceeds the capacity of Derna and the government,” Abduljaleel told The Associated Press by telephone from Derna.
Red Crescent teams from other parts of Libya also arrived in Derna on Tuesday morning, but additional excavators and other equipment had yet to get there.
Floods are common in Libya during the rainy season, but rarely cause so much destruction. A key question was how the rain was able to break through two dams outside Derna – whether due to poor maintenance or the sheer volume of rain.
Karsten Haustein, a climate researcher and meteorologist at the University of Leipzig, said in a statement that Daniel dumped 440 millimeters of rain on eastern Libya in a short period of time.
“The infrastructure was probably not up to it, which led to the collapse of the dam,” he said, adding that the human-caused increase in sea surface temperatures likely contributed to the intensity of the storm.
Local authorities have neglected Derna for years. “Even the maintenance aspect was simply missing. “Everything was constantly delayed,” said Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow specializing in Libya at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.
Factionalism also comes into play. Derna was controlled by militant Islamist groups for several years. Military commander Khalifa Hifter, the strongman of the eastern Libyan government, captured the city in 2019 only after months of tough urban fighting.
Since then, the eastern government has been suspicious of the city and tried to keep its residents away from any decision-making, Harchaoui said. “This distrust could prove disastrous in the coming post-disaster period,” he said.
Hifter’s eastern government, based in the city of Benghazi, is in a bitter rivalry with the western government in the capital Tripoli. Each is supported by powerful militias and foreign powers. Hifter is also backed by Egypt, Russia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, while the western Libyan government is backed by Turkey, Qatar and Italy.
Nevertheless, the initial response to the disaster involved some bridging of the divide.
The Tripoli-based government in western Libya sent a plane carrying 14 tons of medical supplies and health workers to Benghazi. It was also said that the equivalent of 412 million US dollars had been made available for reconstruction in Derna and other cities in the east. On Tuesday, planes carrying humanitarian aid and rescue teams from Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates arrived in Benghazi. The Egyptian chief of staff met with Hifter to coordinate assistance. Germany and France said they were also preparing to send rescue workers and aid supplies.
It was not clear how quickly aid could be brought to Derna, 150 miles east of Benghazi, given conditions on the ground. Ahmed Amdourd, a Derna city official, called for a maritime corridor to deliver aid and equipment.
President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday that the United States is sending emergency funds to aid agencies and coordinating with Libyan authorities and the United Nations to provide additional support.
“Jill and I extend our deepest condolences to all the families who lost loved ones in the devastating floods in Libya,” he said.
The storm also hit other areas in eastern Libya, including the city of Bayda, where around 50 people were reported to have died. Bayda Medical Center, the main hospital, was flooded and patients had to be evacuated, according to footage the center shared on Facebook.
According to the government, Susa, Marj and Shahatt were also affected. Hundreds of families were displaced and sought refuge in schools and other government buildings in Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya.
Northeast Libya is one of the most fertile and green regions in the country. The Jabal al-Akhdar region – where Bayda, Marj and Shahatt are located – has one of the highest average annual rainfall in the country, according to the World Bank.
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.
https://www.twincities.com/2023/09/12/10000-people-are-missing-and-thousands-are-feared-dead-as-eastern-libya-is-devastated-by-floods/ 10,000 people are missing and thousands are feared dead as floods devastate Libya’s east – twin cities