In a devastating turn of events, Libya faces the aftermath of its worst natural disaster in modern history. Thousands have perished, and even more are missing after torrential rains led to catastrophic flooding in the eastern city of Derna. The floodwaters, resulting from a powerful storm, broke through dams and surged through the city, sweeping away multi-story buildings with families still inside.
The confirmed death toll is staggering, with estimates suggesting that between 18,000 to 20,000 individuals may have lost their lives. Derna Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi expressed grave concerns about the potential outbreak of diseases due to the numerous bodies still trapped under the rubble and floating in the water.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has pointed out that this immense loss of life could have been largely prevented. A functional weather agency in Libya could have issued timely warnings, allowing for the evacuation of residents. “If there would have been a normally operating meteorological service, they could have issued warnings,” stated WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalashe. He emphasized that with proper alerts in place, the majority of the casualties could have been avoided.
This tragedy has brought to light the vulnerabilities of the city, which were previously highlighted in an academic paper published last year. The paper underscored Derna’s susceptibility to floods and emphasized the crucial need for maintaining the dams that safeguarded it.
Mohamed al-Menfi, head of Libya’s internationally recognized government, has called for a thorough investigation into the disaster. He stressed the importance of holding accountable those responsible for the dam’s failure and any individuals obstructing aid efforts.
The aftermath of the flood paints a grim picture. Streets are buried under thick mud, uprooted trees are scattered everywhere, and countless vehicles lie overturned. The beach, once a place of leisure, is now littered with personal belongings washed away from homes.
International aid has been pouring in, with rescue teams arriving from neighboring countries like Egypt, Tunisia, the UAE, Turkey, and Qatar. Italy and Turkey have sent supplies, equipment, and personnel to assist in the relief efforts. However, the political divisions in Libya, a nation that has seen intermittent warfare and lacks a unified government since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, are hindering the rescue operations.
Derna, in particular, has witnessed its share of chaos, being controlled by various armed Islamist groups over the years. The city was eventually brought under the uneasy control of Khalifa Haftar’s forces.
The magnitude of the disaster has left many in shock. Usama Al Husadi, a local resident, has been tirelessly searching for his wife and five children since the calamity struck. “We lost at least 50 members from my father’s family, between missing and dead,” he lamented.
As Libya grapples with this unprecedented tragedy, the international community’s support and the resilience of its people will be paramount in rebuilding and ensuring such a disaster does not recur.