In the aftermath of a flash flood likened to a tsunami, emergency crews in Derna, Libya, are racing against the clock to identify the thousands still missing from the disaster, which killed at least 11,300 people.
The flood, caused by a surge of water from two upstream dams, has turned Derna into a nightmare wasteland, obliterating entire city blocks and sweeping an unknown number of people into the Mediterranean.
Central communities on both sides of the river, which usually run dry during this time of year, now bear the wounds of this natural calamity, resembling a path of destruction left by a huge steamroller. Some trees, buildings, and vehicles have been uprooted and are currently resting on the port’s breakwaters.
Survivors recall the terror of the abrupt surge in water levels, with one man describing being swept away with his mother. “The water was rising with us until we got to the fourth floor, and the water was up to the second floor,” he explained.
As the city mourns the massive loss, hundreds of corpse bags line the mud-splattered streets, awaiting mass graves. Residents searching for missing loved ones wander the debris-filled streets, while bulldozers work feverishly to clear the wreckage and sand dunes.
Yann Fridez, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Libya delegation, described the disaster as “violent and brutal,” citing the loss of houses and infrastructure. Families are still looking for missing relatives, and floodwaters are washing up dead bodies on the shore.
The disaster was exacerbated by hurricane-force Storm Daniel, which was exacerbated by Libya’s weakened infrastructure, which has struggled since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011. Many lives may have been saved if early warning and disaster management systems had worked properly, according to UN World Meteorological Organisation Director Petteri Taalas.
Due to massive damage to roads, bridges, and key utilities, access to Derna remains severely hampered. Climate experts blamed the calamity on a changing climate combined with decaying infrastructure in Libya.
Storm Daniel, which escalated over an abnormally hot summer, has already caused significant flooding and casualties in Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece.
Volker Turk, UN Human Rights Commissioner, highlighted that it serves as a sobering reminder of the destructive impact of climate change on our globe.