Catastrophic Mediterranean Storm Decimates Libyan Cities, Death Toll Expected to Reach 2,000

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Mediterranean storm Daniel wreaked havoc on Libya, instigating catastrophic floods that led to the collapse of dams and the elimination of entire neighborhoods in numerous eastern coastal towns of the beleaguered North African nation. According to one of the country’s leadership figures, the death toll was anticipated to reach a staggering 2,000 people.

Derna, a city once gripped by Islamic extremists in the raging chaos that has characterized Libya for over a decade, bore the brunt of the devastation. The city’s rickety and insufficient infrastructure, a product of the strife and division that has left Libya segmented between two hostile administrations – one based in the East and the other in the West, was laid bare under the ferocity of the storm.

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As late as Monday, the official death toll from the flooding was 61, as reported by health authorities. However, this figure did not account for the ravaged city of Derna, which had become inaccessible. Many of the thousands reported missing from Derna are feared to have been swept away when two upstream dams gave way.

The torrential aftermath was illustrated by video footage posted by residents of Derna, revealing entire residential sections wiped out along a river flowing from the mountains through the heart of the city. Multi-story apartment buildings that once stood at a distance from the river were observed partially collapsed, swallowed by the mud.

In a telephonic conversation, Prime Minister Ossama Hamad of East Libya reported that Derna had been declared a disaster zone, with approximately 2,000 individuals feared dead. Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesman for the country’s Eastern based armed forces, reported a death toll exceeding 2,000 and between 5,000 and 6,000 reported missing. He attributed the tragedy to the failure of two proximate dams that led to a disastrous flash flood.

Complicating the situation in Libya is the lack of a centralized government since a 2011 uprising brought an end to the reign of long-time ruler Moammar Gadhafi. The resulting anarchy has led to a significant decline in investment in the country’s roads and public utilities, minimal regulation of private construction, and has split Libya between two rival governments backed by multiple militias.

Derna, much like the city of Sirte, was under the control of extremist groups until the Eastern government forces expelled them in 2018. The events following the storm have ushered in a state of desperation as fatalities mount in cities across Libya.

In Derna, devastation, loss of electricity, and damaged communication infrastructure have left the city in a dire state. The interior minister, Essam Abu Zeriba, anticipates more than 5,000 people to be missing. He paints a dismal picture of victims being swept towards the Mediterranean Sea.

On the international front, Georgette Gagnon, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Libya, issued a plea for local, national, and international partners to unite and provide urgent humanitarian aid to the eastern part of Libya. Simultaneously, the U.S. Embassy in Libya is liaising with U.N. and Libyan authorities to establish methods for delivering aid to the most afflicted areas.

Local media shared disturbing footage of flooded homes and roads. The increasing sense of desperation was palpable as people trapped in their homes and cars pleaded for assistance.

Amidst this calamity, Prime Minister Ossama Hamad declared the city a disaster zone, announcing three days of mourning, and ordering flags across Libya to be lowered to half-mast. Furthermore, Commander Khalifa Hifter dispatched troops to aid the affected residents in the East. Rescue efforts, however, were complicated when contact with five troops assisting families in Bayda was lost.

Internationally, messages of support flooded in. The United Arab Emirates pledged humanitarian aid and search-and-rescue teams to eastern Libya. Other countries including Turkey, Algeria, Egypt, and Iraq also expressed their condolences and offered their support.

However, no respite seems at hand as meteorological forecasts predict Storm Daniel heading towards parts of Western Egypt, threatening further torrential rain and adverse weather.