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Libya is searching for those responsible for thousands of flood deaths

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By Ahmed Elumami, Ayman al-Warfali and Essam Alfetori

DERNA, Libya (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Libyan authorities called on Thursday for an investigation into whether human failures were responsible for thousands of deaths in the worst natural disaster in the country’s modern history, as survivors searched for loved ones swept away by floods.

A torrent unleashed by a powerful storm broke dams Sunday night and rushed down the bed of a seasonal river that bisects the eastern city of Derna, sweeping multi-story buildings into the sea with families sleeping inside.

The confirmed death toll provided by officials has varied. There are all thousands of them, and thousands more appear on the lists of the missing. Derna Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi said deaths in the city could already reach 18,000-20,000, depending on the extent of the damage.

He told RockedBuzz via Reuters he fears the city could be hit by an epidemic, “due to the large number of bodies under the rubble and in the water.”

The World Meteorological Organization said the huge loss of life could have been avoided if Libya – a failed state for more than a decade – had had a functioning meteorological agency.

“If there had been a normally operational weather service, they could have issued warnings,” WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalashe said in Geneva. “The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out the evacuation of people. And we could have avoided most of the human casualties.”

Other commentators have drawn attention to early warnings, including an academic paper published last year by a hydrologist that highlighted the city’s vulnerability to flooding and the urgent need to maintain the dikes that protected it.

Mohamed al-Menfi, head of the three-member council that serves as the presidency of Libya’s internationally recognized government, said on X that the council asked the attorney general to investigate the disaster.

Those whose actions or inactions were responsible for the dam’s failure should be held accountable, along with anyone who impeded aid, he said.

Usama Al Husadi, a 52-year-old driver, was looking for his wife and five children after the disaster.

“I went looking for them on foot… I went to all the hospitals and schools but no luck,” he told RockedBuzz via Reuters, crying with his head in his hands.

Husadi, who had been working the night of the storm, once again dialed his wife’s phone number. It was off.

“We lost at least 50 members of my father’s family, missing and dead,” he said.

Wali Eddin Mohamed Adam, 24, a Sudanese brick factory worker who lives on the outskirts of Derna, had woken up to the roar of water on the night of the storm and ran into the city center to find that it was no longer there. Nine of his fellow workers died, and about 15 others lost their families, he said.

“Everyone was swept out of the valley into the sea,” he said. “May God have mercy on them and grant them paradise.”


Rescue teams arrived from Egypt, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar. Among the countries that sent aid, Turkey sent a ship with equipment to set up two field hospitals. Italy sent three planes with supplies and personnel, as well as two navy ships that had difficulty disembarking because the port of Derna, choked with debris, was almost unusable.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it would allocate $2 million from its emergency fund to support victims, calling the floods a “calamity of epic proportions”. It added that it will send trauma, surgical and emergency supplies from its logistics hub in Dubai.

Rescue work is hampered by political fractures in a country of 7 million people, intermittently at war and without any government of national reach since a NATO-backed uprising toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

An internationally recognized Government of National Unity (GNU) is based in Tripoli in the west. A parallel administration operates in the east, under the control of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which failed to capture Tripoli in a bloody 14-month siege that was resolved in 2020.

Derna was particularly chaotic, run by a series of armed Islamist groups, including at one point the Islamic State, before being brought with difficulty under Haftar’s control.

A delegation of GNU ministers was expected in Benghazi in the east on Thursday to show solidarity and discuss relief efforts, a rare occurrence since the eastern-based parliament rejected their administration last year.

Seen from high above Derna, the once densely populated city center was now a broad, flat crescent of land with mud flats. On Thursday, only rubble and a washed-out road remained at the site of the dam that once protected the city. The deserted riverbed, or wadi, had already shrunk to a trickle.

Below, the beach was strewn with clothes, toys, furniture, shoes and other items washed away from homes by the creek. The roads were covered in deep mud and littered with uprooted trees and hundreds of wrecked cars, many flipped onto their sides or roofs. A car was stuck on the second floor balcony of a gutted building.

“I survived with my wife but I lost my sister,” said Mohamed Mohsen Bujmila, a 41-year-old engineer. “My sister lives downtown, where most of the destruction occurred. We found the bodies of her husband and son and buried them.”

He also found the bodies of two strangers in his apartment.

As he spoke, an Egyptian search and rescue team nearby recovered his neighbor’s body.

“This is Aunt Khadija, may God grant her heaven,” Bujmila said.

(Writing by Peter Graff, Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Andrew Heavens)

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