Libya has been grappling with a devastating flood crisis that has resulted in widespread displacement and tragic loss of life. The eastern Libyan city of Derna, in particular, has borne the brunt of this natural disaster, as two dams succumbed to the relentless rains, unleashing torrents that engulfed entire communities.
The precise scale of the tragedy remains shrouded in uncertainty due to the limited access to Derna, home to 100,000 residents. Rescue operations have been hampered by severed roads, landslides, and flooding, leaving the population to employ rudimentary means to recover bodies, many of which have been laid to rest in mass graves, as documented on social media.
The isolation of Derna and other affected towns from the outside world has compounded the challenges. Despite the authorities’ efforts to restore communication networks, these areas remain virtually cut off.
Estimates of the human toll vary, with both Eastern and Western authorities acknowledging “thousands” of casualties. Osama Ali, spokesperson for Libya’s “Emergency and Rescue Service” under the internationally recognised government in Tripoli, reported over 2,300 deaths and approximately 7,000 injuries in Derna. Shockingly, more than 5,000 individuals remain unaccounted for.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has also raised alarm over the substantial loss of life, potentially numbering in the thousands, with a staggering 10,000 individuals still missing.
This calamity marks the most devastating natural disaster to afflict Libya’s eastern province of Cyrenaica since the powerful earthquake that rattled the town of al-Marj in 1963.
The catastrophe unfolded as storm Daniel made landfall on Libya’s eastern coast, impacting Benghazi and subsequently sweeping eastward through the towns of the Jabal al-Akhdar region. Derna, already grappling with its share of devastation, suffered the most severe consequences.
The breaking of the two dams on Wadi Derna on Sunday night triggered an immense deluge. Witnesses reported a deafening explosion preceding the unstoppable torrents that inundated the city, submerging bridges, neighbourhoods, and their inhabitants into the Mediterranean.
In the days that followed, the sea cast ashore the grim evidence of the disaster, with bodies washing up on the shores. Military efforts were mobilised, as depicted in images circulated by Libyan media, showing helicopters engaged in the solemn task of recovering remains from beaches strewn with debris.
In the face of this tragedy, both within Libya and abroad, people have united to extend aid to the victims, even as the assistance has been arriving gradually. Convoy missions from Tripolitania in western Libya are en route to Derna. The Tripoli government, led by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, has committed substantial resources, including air ambulances, medical teams, and technicians to restore power.
Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have also dispatched rescue teams to eastern Libya, demonstrating solidarity in the face of this devastating natural disaster. As the international community rallies to support Libya during this trying time, the focus remains on providing much-needed relief and assistance to those affected by the floods.