Derna, Libya – In the aftermath of a catastrophic flash flood often likened to a tsunami, emergency teams in Derna, Libya, are working relentlessly to locate thousands of missing individuals in the wake of a calamity that has claimed the lives of a minimum of 4,000 people.
This deluge, triggered by a surge of water from two upstream dams, has turned Derna into a nightmarish wasteland. Entire city blocks have been obliterated, and an unknown number of people have been swept into the Mediterranean.
Central neighborhoods on both sides of the river, which typically remain dry during this season, now bear the scars of this natural disaster, resembling the aftermath of a colossal steamroller. Trees, buildings, and vehicles have been uprooted, with some even resting on the port’s breakwaters.
Survivors recount the horror of the sudden surge in water levels. One man vividly describes the terrifying experience of being swept away with his mother, saying, “The water was rising with us until we got to the fourth floor, and the water was up to the second floor.”
As the city grapples with an immense loss, hundreds of body bags line the mud-covered streets, awaiting mass burials. Grieving residents scour the debris-filled streets for their missing loved ones, while bulldozers tirelessly work to clear rubble and heaps of sand.
Yann Fridez, the head of the Libya delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, described the disaster as “violent and brutal,” noting the widespread destruction of buildings and infrastructure. Families continue to search for their missing relatives, and the floodwaters have started washing up dead bodies on the shore.
The catastrophe was exacerbated by the hurricane-strength Storm Daniel, which was further intensified by Libya’s fragile infrastructure, struggling since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011. UN World Meteorological Organization chief Petteri Taalas mentioned that if early warning and emergency management systems had functioned correctly, many lives could have been saved.
Access to Derna remains severely hindered due to extensive damage to roads, bridges, and essential utilities. Climate experts attribute the disaster to a changing climate coupled with Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure.
Storm Daniel, which gained strength during an unusually hot summer, has already wreaked havoc in Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece, resulting in widespread flooding and casualties.
UN rights commissioner Volker Turk emphasized that this event serves as a stark reminder of the devastating impact of climate change on our world.
The people of Derna now face not only the immediate aftermath of this devastating flood but also the long and challenging task of rebuilding their lives and their city in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate.