More than 5,000 people have died, and thousands more fear the devastating floods caused by Storm Daniel in eastern Libya.
In the night from Sunday to Monday, two dams on Wadi Derna failed, which hold back the waters of the wadi that crosses the city. Witnesses told Libyan media that they heard a “huge explosion” before powerful torrents reached the city, overflowing their banks, sweeping bridges and entire neighborhoods with their residents toward the Mediterranean.
Tarek al-Kharraz, spokesman for the interior ministry of the government that oversees eastern Libya, in one of the country’s two rival administrations, said at least 5,200 people had lost their lives in Derna after two dams collapsed.
Pictures of rows of bodies wrapped in blankets lying on the pavement in front of the hospital in Derna show what the storm is like overwhelmed Libya’s infrastructure, already devastated by years of war and political unrest.
Earlier on Tuesday, a Red Cross official said 10,000 people were missing more than 48 hours after the storm.
“Our teams on the ground continue to assess the situation, [mais] from what we see and the information that reaches us, the human toll is significant,” Tamer Ramadan, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told reporters in Tunisia.
“For now, we don’t have a precise figure,” he emphasized, specifying that “the number of missing people to date is 10,000 people.”
Abandonment of public services
The part of Libya affected by Storm Daniel is controlled by self-proclaimed Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
The 79-year-old soldier, who also controls large parts of the country’s east, enjoys strong support from Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as diplomatic cover from France.
Storm Daniel in Libya: thousands of people could have died in the floods
Libya has been wracked by unrest since 2011 and a NATO-backed insurgency that toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. Years of political instability, corruption and war have led to the abandonment of key public services such as hospitals, health infrastructure and rescue teams needed to respond to disasters.
According to Hichem Chkiouat, minister and member of the government’s emergency committee in the east of the country, Derna is one of the hardest hit towns and has suffered unprecedented damage.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that 25% of the city has disappeared. Many buildings collapsed,” he explained to reporters, before declaring Derna a disaster area.
At least 30,000 people have been displaced in Derna, as well as 3,000 in Al-Baida and more than 2,000 in Benghazi, other cities further west, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Wednesday.
Cut roads, landslides and floods prevented aid from reaching the population quickly, who had to use rudimentary means to extricate dozens of bodies buried in mass graves, according to images posted on social media.
The IOM explained that Derna is now only accessible through two entrances in the south (out of the usual seven). Widespread power outages and disruptions in the telecommunications network are limiting communication, she said.
If the storm Daniel also affected Turkey, Bulgaria and the Republic GreeceLibya has been hit hardest by what one UN official described as a “disaster of gigantic proportions”.
A video posted on social media shows workers at a hospital in the city of al-Baida trying to drain water that flooded the building.
The floods have sparked an international response, with a growing number of countries sending aid and humanitarian aid teams to the North African nation.
More than 2,300 people died in the floods that destroyed the city of Derna in eastern Libya, emergency services said, but the authorities and the Red Cross fear a much higher number of victims⤵️
— Agence France-Presse (@afpfr) September 12, 2023
At a press conference on Tuesday, Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah said “more offers of help” had begun to arrive.
The United States said it was coordinating with Libyan authorities and the United Nations to provide support and provide emergency funding through humanitarian organizations.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it sent three planes of humanitarian aid and humanitarian personnel in the night from Monday to Tuesday.
The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Algeria also announced aid to areas affected by the storm and subsequent flooding.
Turkey and Qatar traditionally support the government in Tripoli, while the United Arab Emirates supports Haftar. But the rapprochement between Ankara and Abu Dhabi has helped ease the conflict in Libya, even if tensions remain.
Storm Daniel formed earlier this month over the Ionian Sea, near Greece and Bulgaria, before moving towards the southern Mediterranean, according to meteorologists.
The storm arrived in Libya with winds over 80 km/h and heavy rains.
Translated from English (original) by VECTranslation and updated.