Search Teams Scour for 10,000 Unaccounted Individuals in Libyan City Overwhelmed by Floods; Death Toll Exceeds 11,000

by Gabriel Martinez
Flood Crisis in Derna

On Friday, Libyan authorities restricted entry to a flood-stricken city, facilitating rescue teams in their quest to locate 10,000 individuals who are missing and feared deceased, following a deluge that has already claimed more than 11,000 lives.

Officials issued alerts about the possible spread of diseases and the risk of unexploded ordnances that may have been displaced by the floodwaters, potentially exacerbating an already grim situation. The efforts to recover bodies and distribute aid in the worst-hit areas have been hampered by a lack of resources and organizational confusion. Libya’s dual governments, long fragmented by internal conflicts and warfare, have faced challenges in coordinating a response to this monumental catastrophe.

Heavy rains from the Mediterranean storm Daniel caused two dams to rupture early Monday, releasing a torrent of water several meters high that surged through the valley, inundating the city of Derna.

Though the disaster has prompted a rare unity among Libya’s divided eastern and western governments and their international backers, relief operations have been impeded by infrastructure damage, including the collapse of several bridges connecting Derna, resulting in uneven aid distribution.

Additional Information on Libyan Flooding

  • Satellite imagery reveals flood-induced devastation resulting in over 11,000 deaths in Libya
  • Entire families perished in Libya’s floods; many remained oblivious to the peril until the dams gave way
  • Death toll from flooding in Libya’s coastal city of Derna reaches 11,300, according to aid organizations

Humanitarian organizations have urged the Libyan government to streamline the delivery of essential food, potable water, and medical supplies to survivors. The absence of centralized coordination is evident, as some city zones receive adequate supplies and support, while others have residents left unaided, searching through debris for their loved ones.

The streets of Derna are strewn with debris, including twisted metal and submerged vehicles, all covered in a layer of mud. Mass graves have been prepared in the outskirts of the city and in adjacent towns for the deceased, as stated by Eastern Libya’s Health Minister, Othman Abduljaleel.

Despite ongoing efforts, authorities are concerned that thousands more bodies are yet to be discovered.

Forensic experts have described a gruesome scene where bodies are scattered throughout the city, on the shoreline, and under collapsed structures. Divers are engaged in searching the coastal waters adjacent to Derna for additional victims.

Adel Ayad, who survived the flood, recounted how the rising water levels reached the fourth floor of his building, sweeping people off rooftops and carrying them away.

Late on Thursday, Salam al-Fergany, the Director General of the Ambulance and Emergency Service in eastern Libya, announced plans to evacuate Derna residents. However, as of Friday, no such evacuations were evident.

Health experts indicate that stagnant water poses a health risk, primarily due to water contamination, although the presence of dead bodies does not inherently contribute to the risk. They advocate for the provision of safe drinking water as a critical focus.

Imene Trabelsi, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, has raised concerns about the increased threat from landmines and other explosive remnants relocated by the floodwaters, which could present both an immediate and long-term risk.

According to the Libyan Red Crescent, as of Thursday, the number of confirmed deaths stood at 11,300 in Derna, with another 10,100 people reported missing.

In addition to the domestic tragedy, Libyan media have reported that dozens of Sudanese migrants lost their lives in the catastrophe, highlighting Libya’s role as a crucial transit point for migrants from the Middle East and Africa seeking better lives in Europe.

The unusual intensity of the flooding, attributed in part to climate change, has been exacerbated by Libya’s ongoing political instability, leading to widespread criticism of authorities for their lack of preparedness.

Officials have acknowledged that the political turmoil in Libya contributed to the high fatality rate, and residents have expressed anger and disappointment at the lack of emergency readiness.

This report has been updated to clarify that there have been no signs of initiated evacuations as of yet.

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

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Flood Crisis in Derna, Libya

What happened in Derna, Libya?

Two dams collapsed after exceptionally heavy rains from Mediterranean storm Daniel, causing severe flooding in the city of Derna. The disaster has resulted in over 11,000 confirmed deaths, with another 10,000 individuals reported missing.

Who is responsible for the rescue and relief operations?

Rescue and relief operations are being conducted by Libyan authorities, though their efforts have been hampered by lack of resources, organizational confusion, and existing political divisions between eastern and western governments.

What are the primary challenges faced by rescue teams?

The primary challenges include restricted access to affected areas, infrastructural damage including destroyed bridges, risk of disease spread due to stagnant water, and potential hazards from landmines and explosive remnants shifted by floodwaters.

Are aid groups involved in the situation?

Yes, humanitarian organizations have called on the Libyan government to streamline the distribution of essential supplies like food, clean water, and medical aids to the survivors.

What are the health risks involved?

Stagnant water poses a significant health risk due to potential water contamination. Health officials also warn of the spread of diseases in the aftermath of the flooding.

Are there any security risks for the rescue teams?

Yes, there is an increased threat from landmines and other explosive remnants that may have been relocated by the floodwaters. These pose an immediate and long-term risk to rescue teams and civilians alike.

What is the current state of aid distribution?

Aid distribution has been uneven and plagued by a lack of central oversight. While some areas have received supplies, others have residents left unassisted, sifting through debris to find their loved ones.

How has the disaster affected Libya’s political landscape?

The catastrophe has prompted a rare unity among Libya’s long-divided eastern and western governments and their international backers. However, the relief operations have been impeded by the existing political strife and lack of preparedness.

Have other areas in Libya been affected by the storm?

Yes, apart from Derna, the storm has caused about 170 deaths elsewhere in the country.

Is climate change linked to this disaster?

Scientists indicate that the unusual intensity of the flooding bears some of the hallmarks of climate change, particularly the extremely warm sea water that could have given the storm more energy and allowed it to move more slowly.

More about Flood Crisis in Derna, Libya

  • Flood Crisis in Derna: Overview and Current Status
  • Emergency Response Efforts in Libya
  • Health Risks Associated with Flooding in Libya
  • Political Strife and Its Impact on Relief Operations
  • Humanitarian Aid Organizations in Libya
  • Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events in North Africa
  • Landmines and Explosive Hazards in Libya
  • Libya’s Ongoing Civil Conflict: A Brief History

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Isabel W. September 15, 2023 - 8:41 pm

Reading about the families lost in the flood made me so emotional. My prayers are with them.

Mike R. September 15, 2023 - 9:26 pm

Terrible… Can’t believe the government wasn’t prepared for something like this. I mean come on, it’s 2023.

James L. September 16, 2023 - 12:23 am

Wow, the situation in Libya is truly heartbreaking. How come we’re not hearing more about this in international news?

Karen S. September 16, 2023 - 2:16 am

Climate change is hitting hard, and it’s the people who are least responsible who are suffering the most. So unfair.

Eddy J. September 16, 2023 - 3:39 am

Why is aid distribution so patchy? If there was ever a time to come together, it’s now.

Linda G. September 16, 2023 - 4:44 am

The risk of disease spreading is awful on top of everything else. Hope they can get that under control soon.

Sophia M. September 16, 2023 - 5:46 am

Didn’t know it was this bad, 11k dead and 10k missing? this is a catastrophe. Where’s the UN and other big organizations?

Tom N. September 16, 2023 - 6:23 am

Landmines too? As if flooding wasn’t bad enough. This is a nightmare for rescue teams.

Zack K. September 16, 2023 - 12:09 pm

politics aside, human lives are at stake. Hope the international community steps up.


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