Catastrophic Flood Claims Over 1,500 Lives in Libya’s Derna Amid Crumbling Infrastructure

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In a heart-breaking turn of events, over 1,500 lives have been tragically taken in the aftermath of a demolition within Libya’s eastern city, Derna. Only on Tuesday were the victims uncovered, with the discovery sending shockwaves through the nation. Derna remains in a precarious position, as the death toll, prompted overwhelmingly by catastrophic floods, is estimated to exceed 5,000. In a brutal twist of fate, the floodwaters destroyed the city’s dams, vanishing entire neighbourhoods in their wake.

This disaster, triggered by the Mediterranean storm Daniel, is an agonizing testament to not only the storm’s terrifying ferocity but also the susceptibility of a country caught in the clutches of chaos for a span exceeding a ten-year period. Libya is split apart by opposing governments located in the eastern and western regions, causing widespread infrastructure neglect.

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The urgent need for assistance outside Derna was finally addressed on Tuesday, although more than 36 hours had elapsed since the disaster had made its cruel mark. Several access routes to the coastal city, home to approximately 89,000 people, were severely affected or utterly obliterated by the floods.

Shocking footage emanating from the city’s hospitals reveals tens of lifeless bodies covered by blankets. Another visual exhibits a heartbreaking mass grave replete with the bodies of the deceased. As per the health minister of East Libya, over 1,500 bodies had been collected by Tuesday evening, half of which had been interred.

A state-run news agency quoted an official estimate that positioned the death count above 5,000. Specifically, Mohammed Abu-Lamousha, an East Libya interior ministry spokesperson, revealed that over 5,300 individuals had lost their lives in Derna alone. Earlier on Tuesday, Derna’s ambulance authority reported that 2,300 had succumbed to the disaster.

However, these figures may be a conservative estimate, suggested Tamer Ramadan, Libya’s envoy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. While briefing the U.N from Tunisia via video conference, Ramadan reported at least 10,000 people missing, with over 40,000 individuals displaced.

The eastern city of Derna faced the storm’s wrath on Sunday night. With the storm furiously ravishing the coast, residents heard loud explosions, indicating that the dams situated outside the city had collapsed. A flood of enormous magnitude was thus unleashed down Wadi Derna, a river coursing from the mountains, through the city, and into the sea.

The wave of water obliterated everything along its path, resulting in swathes of mud and wreckage where vibrant neighbourhoods once stood. Ahmed Abdalla, a Derna resident, described the scene as the water “erased” everything. Buildings once situated quite a distance from the river found their facades ripped away, concrete floors collapsed, and lifted cars haphazardly dumped.

Offering a glimmer of hope amid paramount destruction, the government of western Libya took a step towards unity, sending medical supplies and aid to Derna and allocating a large sum for the city’s reconstruction. Aid and rescue teams also arrived in Benghazi from Egypt, Turkey, and the UAE. There is, however, uncertainty regarding how swiftly and effectively the aid could be transferred to Derna.

Libya’s health minister of the east, Othman Abduljaleel, shed light on his dismay at the extent of the devastation. He added that the calamity was beyond Derna and the government’s capability to handle, underlining the critical need for immediate external aid, which unfortunately, is yet to be on-site in full force.