Derna, Libya – In the wake of a catastrophic flash flood often compared to a tsunami, emergency teams in Derna, Libya, are working tirelessly to locate thousands of missing individuals following a calamity that has claimed the lives of at least 4,000 people.
The deluge, triggered by a surge of water from two upstream dams, has transformed Derna into a nightmarish wasteland, with entire city blocks obliterated, and an unknown number of people swept into the Mediterranean.
Central neighborhoods on both sides of the river, which typically remains 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, some resting on the port’s breakwaters.
Survivors recount the horror of the sudden rise in water levels, with one man describing the terrifying experience of being swept away with his mother. “The water was rising with us until we got to the fourth floor; the water was up to the second floor,” he recalled.
As the city grapples with immense loss, hundreds of body bags line the mud-covered streets, awaiting mass burials. Grieving residents search the debris-filled streets for 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 destruction of buildings and infrastructure. Families are still searching for missing relatives, and the floodwaters have begun washing up dead bodies on the shore.
The catastrophe was worsened by hurricane-strength Storm Daniel, aggravated by Libya’s fragile infrastructure, which has struggled 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 intensified during an unusually hot summer, has already caused havoc in Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece, resulting in widespread flooding and casualties.
UN rights commissioner Volker Turk emphasized that this event serves as a grim 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 arduous task of rebuilding their lives and their city in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate.