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A devastating flood has left thousands dead and missing in Libya after torrential rains overwhelmed dams near the coastal city of Derna. At least 5,200 people have been confirmed killed according to government estimates, with over 10,000 more missing and feared dead. Entire neighborhoods in Derna have been washed out to sea in what is being called one of Libya’s worst natural disasters.
The heavy rains struck over the weekend as Storm Daniel moved over the Mediterranean Sea, having already battered several countries including Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria. But the worst damage came to Libya, where two major dams south of Derna overflowed from the downpour. Known together as the Wadi Darna dam, the dual dam failures unleashed floodwaters that destroyed buildings, roads, and infrastructure in Derna, essentially cutting the city off from aid and submerging it in water.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said the Derna City Council in a statement pleading for assistance. “The city of Derna is begging for help.”
Rescue and recovery efforts are currently underway but severely hampered by the devastation. The raging waters have made roads impassable in many areas, splitting Derna in two. This has forced rescue teams to take long detours just to cross from one side of the ravaged city to the other. Even basic supplies and medical aid have struggled to reach survivors stranded by the flooding.
“Mapping the Widespread Damage in Derna”
The most intense flooding struck coastal areas of northeast Libya including Derna and the towns of Shahhat, Al-Bayda, and Marj. But damages span across the eastern region, displacing over 30,000 people according to aid groups monitoring the situation. Entire communities have been ravaged along Libya’s vulnerable coastline.
Kamal Abubaker, who heads a government agency for missing persons, estimates over 10,000 people are still unaccounted for based on official figures. He warns it may take weeks to determine accurate numbers of missing and deceased as the scale of the disaster continues to unfold.
Heartbreaking pleas for information have flooded social media, as families post photos of loved ones not heard from since the storm. But with electricity, internet access, and cellular networks down across wide swaths of the impact zone, comprehensive damage assessments remain elusive.
Could More Have Been Done to Prepare?
Critics have questioned Libya’s preparedness and infrastructure to handle major storms, as the country’s decentralized authority and ongoing instability have left systems in disarray. With most citizens living along vulnerable coastlines, many experts consider Libya highly susceptible to climate change impacts but lacking coordinated readiness efforts.
There were no serious preparations to monitor the dams or warn and evacuate residents downstream, even after the same storm system killed dozens further north. The failures have raised alarms over Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure. Officials also indicated two other regional dams could be at risk of imminent collapse.
Emphasizing the gravity, authorities assured citizens that additional dams near Benghazi are currently stable and under control. But the damage in Derna highlighted severe vulnerabilities, and the need for proactive preparations well before the next storms hit.
International Aid Mobilizing But Distribution Remains Challenge
Several countries have pledged humanitarian aid, including medical teams, supplies, and funding. Nations offering assistance include Turkey, UAE, Britain, France, Germany, and the US. President Biden has directed emergency money to relief groups already on the ground in Libya.
Even rival Libyan authorities are working jointly on search-and-rescue in a rare moment of cooperation. The western government in Tripoli has provided equipment and body bags, collaborating with eastern officials to send medical aid. The Libya Red Crescent Society has also mobilized teams in the region.
But distributing help remains extremely difficult, with so many access roads still impassable. Aid groups are working urgently to expand services and dispatch humanitarian supplies to the most devastated communities. But reiterating the challenges, witnesses say some isolated survivors have fled on foot, trudging miles through churning water and debris to reach support in nearby towns.
International organizations are coordinating with Libyan authorities to keep expanding the aid response and reach those trapped by the flooding. But the logistical obstacles are still hindering a rapid large-scale effort needed to match the scale of the disaster.
Recovery Expected to Be Long, Arduous Process
Even after the floodwaters fully recede, Libya faces a long and painful road to recovery. With thousands dead, many more missing or homeless, and basic infrastructure ravaged, the storm’s impacts will linger for months and years ahead.
Entire neighborhoods along Libya’s coast have been washed away, leaving unimaginable losses. The economic damages throughout Derna and surrounding communities are expected to reach into the billions. Remnants of buildings and belongings will need to be cleared before reconstruction can even begin.
Psychological scars will also run deep, as residents grapple with the harrowing ordeal and grief over loved ones lost. The distress has only compounded after warnings went unheeded, leaving many questioning if more could have been done.
While the immediate priority remains search-and-rescue and humanitarian aid, plans for rebuilding shattered areas will soon need to take shape. With climate change projected to intensify storms in the region, reinforced infrastructure and preparedness programs will be key to preventing future tragedies on this scale.
For now, Libya continues working urgently to help all remaining survivors, account for the missing, and start picking up the pieces of communities so abruptly destroyed. The road ahead is long, but the country vows to come together and recover stronger for the future.