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Libyan Government Closes Flood-Stricken City for Search Operations After Death Count Exceeds 11,000

by Ryan Lee
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Libyan Flood Disaster

On Friday, the Libyan government imposed a lockdown on a city ravaged by floods to facilitate search operations for approximately 10,000 individuals who are unaccounted for and presumed dead. The official death toll from the catastrophic flooding has surpassed 11,000. Authorities have also issued warnings about the risks of diseases and potential explosives that may have been displaced by the deluge.

Early on Monday, two dams burst due to an unusually intense downpour from Mediterranean Storm Daniel, releasing a towering surge of water into a valley that intersects the city of Derna.

Libya’s ongoing political instability and these rare flooding events have collectively contributed to the staggering loss of life. The nation, rich in oil resources, has been politically fragmented since 2014, divided between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militia groups and foreign sponsors.

However, the catastrophe has instigated an uncommon moment of unity, with governmental bodies from both sides of the internal divide rallying to aid the impacted areas. The relief operations have been hampered due to the destruction of multiple bridges that connect the city.

Amidst the chaos, debris of twisted metal and submerged vehicles clutter the streets of Derna, covered in layers of beige-colored mud. Mass burials have been conducted outside the city and in nearby municipalities, according to Othman Abduljaleel, the Health Minister of Eastern Libya.

Authorities are concerned that thousands of corpses may yet be concealed beneath the mud or floating in the ocean, where diving teams have been dispatched for search operations.

Survivor Adel Ayad recounted witnessing floodwaters rise as high as the fourth floor of his building. “Floodwaters carried individuals away, even from the tops of structures. Among them were my neighbors,” he said.

Health experts have cautioned that standing water could become a breeding ground for diseases. Dr. Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, clarified that there was no immediate need for rushed burials or mass graves, as dead bodies typically do not pose a direct risk under these conditions.

Imene Trabelsi, a representative from the International Committee of the Red Cross, highlighted another potential threat lurking in the mud: unexploded ordnance dating back to both World War II and Libya’s ongoing civil conflict that started in 2011. From 2011 to 2021, landmines and explosive remnants killed and wounded 3,457 individuals in the country.

Prior to the flooding, Trabelsi indicated that efforts to locate and remove these explosives had been limited. The floods may have moved these devices to new, as-of-yet unidentified locations.

Salam al-Fergany, Director General of the Ambulance and Emergency Service in eastern Libya, announced on Thursday that residents are being evacuated from Derna to allow only search-and-rescue teams into the city.

As of Thursday, according to the Libyan Red Crescent, 11,300 individuals in Derna had perished in the flood, while another 10,100 are still missing. The natural disaster has also claimed approximately 170 lives in other parts of Libya.

Officials acknowledge that Libya’s unstable political landscape has exacerbated the human toll of this disaster. “Governmental institutions are not operating efficiently,” said Lori Hieber Girardet, head of the risk knowledge branch of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Derna resident Khalifa Othman, who is desperately searching for several missing family members, expressed his disappointment in the authorities for their lack of preparedness for such a catastrophe. “All the people are distraught and furious—there was no preparation for this event,” he stated.

Contributions to this report were made by Big Big News correspondents Samy Magdy in Cairo, Jack Jeffery in London, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, and Abby Sewell in Beirut.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Libyan Flood Disaster

What led to the massive flooding in Libya’s city of Derna?

The flooding in the city of Derna was caused by the bursting of two dams due to an unusually intense downpour from Mediterranean Storm Daniel. The event led to a significant surge of water flowing into a valley that intersects Derna.

How many people are confirmed dead and missing as a result of the flood?

As of the latest reports, the official death toll stands at 11,300 individuals in the city of Derna alone, while approximately 10,100 people are still unaccounted for and presumed dead.

What other risks are associated with the flooding, apart from loss of life?

Apart from the immediate loss of life, health authorities warn of risks posed by standing water, which could be a breeding ground for diseases. Furthermore, there are concerns about unexploded ordnance, including landmines that may have been shifted by the floodwaters, posing additional dangers.

How has Libya’s political landscape affected the relief efforts?

Libya’s fragmented political scenario, characterized by rival governments in the east and west, has been a contributing factor to the scale of the disaster. However, the event has instigated a rare moment of unity, with governmental bodies from both sides rallying to aid the impacted areas. Relief efforts have nonetheless been hampered by the destruction of crucial infrastructure like bridges.

What steps are being taken to locate missing persons?

Search and rescue operations are underway, with diving teams dispatched to search in the ocean. Additionally, the city of Derna has been sealed off to facilitate these operations.

Who are the international and local agencies involved in the relief operations?

International agencies such as the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross are involved in the relief efforts. Locally, the Libyan Red Crescent and the Ambulance and Emergency Service in eastern Libya are actively participating in relief and rescue operations.

What is being done to deal with health risks?

Health experts have warned about the potential for disease due to standing water. Steps are being taken to ensure that people have access to safe water, and there is ongoing monitoring of water quality.

How many explosive remnants and landmines are expected in the area?

There are no exact numbers for the unexploded ordnance that may be present. However, between 2011 and 2021, some 3,457 people were killed and wounded by landmines and explosive remnants in Libya. These explosives may have been moved to new, yet unidentified locations due to the floods.

Are residents being evacuated from the city?

Yes, the residents are being evacuated from Derna to allow emergency crews and search-and-rescue teams to do their work.

How are the authorities addressing public grievances regarding preparedness?

The scale of the disaster has led to significant public anger and questions about the lack of preparedness. While there has been acknowledgment from officials that governmental institutions are not operating efficiently, there is no detailed plan yet outlined to address these grievances.

More about Libyan Flood Disaster

  • Latest Updates on Libyan Floods
  • Mediterranean Storm Daniel: Causes and Consequences
  • Political Instability in Libya: A Detailed Analysis
  • World Health Organization on Flooding and Public Health Risks
  • Role of International Committee of the Red Cross in Disaster Relief
  • The State of Libyan Infrastructure: Bridges and Dams
  • History of Landmines and Explosive Remnants in Libya
  • U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction: Reports and Resources
  • Libyan Red Crescent: Relief Efforts for Derna
  • Previous Natural Disasters in Libya: Lessons Not Learned

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1 comment

James McCallum September 15, 2023 - 12:19 pm

Wow, this is really tragic. Can’t believe the toll its taken on human life and the whole city. Stay strong, Derna.

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