Libya begins to bury its dead as death toll from floods soars to over 11,000

DailyBiteSep 15, 2023 | 12:25

Libya begins to bury its dead as death toll from floods soars to over 11,000

Floodwaters surged through Wadi Derna, a valley dissecting the city, demolishing buildings and sweeping people out to sea. (Photo credit AFP)

Rescue teams are battling to help survivors and locate the dead five days after devastating flooding hit the eastern Libyan city of Derna. The death toll in the coastal city has now soared to 11,300, and thousands are still missing, as reported by AP, quoting the Libyan Red Crescent on Thursday (September 14).

Families are desperately looking for their missing loved ones following the breach of two dams during heavy rains in the city.


Marie el-Drese, the secretary-general of the aid group, revealed that an additional 10,100 individuals are reported missing in Derna. Health authorities had initially estimated the death toll at 5,500. The storm has also claimed the lives of about 170 people in other regions of the country.


What happened in Derna

  • Derna and its neighboring regions bore the brunt of an exceptionally powerful Mediterranean storm named Daniel. As the storm battered the coast on Sunday night, residents reported hearing loud explosions as two dams outside the city gave way.
  • Floodwaters surged through Wadi Derna, a valley dissecting the city, demolishing buildings and sweeping people out to sea.
  • A UN official said that many of the casualties might have been prevented. "If there would have been a normal operating meteorological service, they could have issued the warnings," stated World Meteorological Organization head Petteri Taalas.
  • The National Meteorological Center issued warnings 72 hours before the flood, but there was no alert about the dams collapsing, reported AP.

Impact of conflict in Libya

This calamitous event not only highlights the ferocity of the storm but also underscores Libya's vulnerability. The nation, rich in oil, has been divided between rival governments for much of the past decade, leading to widespread neglect of critical infrastructure.


The two dams that failed outside Derna were constructed in the 1970s, yet a report from a state-run audit agency in 2021 revealed that they had not received proper maintenance despite substantial funding allocated for this purpose in 2012 and 2013.

The aftermath

Derna has begun the painful process of laying to rest its deceased residents, with many being interred in mass graves, according to eastern Libya's health minister, Othman Abduljaleel.

By Thursday morning, more than 3,000 bodies had been buried, while another 2,000 were still being processed. Rescue teams continue to search the city's ruined buildings, and divers are combing the sea for survivors.

The devastation has prompted rare unity among government agencies across Libya, as they rush to assist the affected areas. The eastern-based government of Tobruk is leading relief efforts, while the western-based government in Tripoli has allocated approximately $412 million for reconstruction in Derna and other eastern towns, as reported by AP.


Aid and assistance arrive

Though access roads to Derna were severely damaged by the floods, humanitarian convoys have managed to enter the city in recent days. The UN's International Organization for Migration reports that the floods have displaced at least 30,000 people in Derna, with thousands more forced from their homes in neighboring towns.

The international community has responded with assistance, with several countries, including Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia, sending aid and rescue teams. Italy dispatched a naval vessel carrying humanitarian aid and helicopters for search and rescue operations.

President Joe Biden has pledged US support, stating that the United States will provide funding to relief organisations and collaborate with Libyan authorities and the United Nations to offer further assistance in this time of crisis.

Last updated: September 15, 2023 | 12:25
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