Home World ‘I never thought we would survive’: Derna after the deluge | Libya floods 2023

‘I never thought we would survive’: Derna after the deluge | Libya floods 2023

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Eight days after a 10-metre wall of water transformed a city of 100,000 people into a wasteland some people are still wearing the pyjamas they woke up in that terrible night. With loved ones lost, finding new clothes, washing, sleeping and eating are not priorities for the survivors of Derna.

Libyans from all over the country have rushed to help, and among them are rescue teams from the Libyan Red Crescent, some in crimson jackets, others in white hazmat suits, gloves and masks. Roads into Derna are filled with ambulances and trucks carrying food and water.

More than a week after the catastrophe they are still finding people alive, although the dead fill the mud-washed city of ruined buildings. One team reported on Sunday that they had rescued a family of five from a valley near the city.

Damaged vehicles lie in mud in Derna
Damaged vehicles lie in mud in Derna. Photograph: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Ibrahim Abdulsamia, 36, and his wife somehow managed to survive despite their five-storey building being uprooted and carried away. “I never imagined we would survive, my wife and I, but it was by the grace of God that we were given a new lease on life,” he said.

His wife, Fatima al-Hadi, 28, clung to their young daughter when the dam burst, but the power of the water and the rubble it carried meant she was later lost. Abdulsamia spoke with anguish, tears in his eyes, as he recounted their search for their daughter beneath the rubble.

After four days trapped under debris, the couple was found alive, thanks to Maltese rescue teams who managed to locate and extract them to safety.

What they could not have imagined was that another rescue team would also find his 12-year-old daughter on the third storey, which had been carried elsewhere. She was handed over to the Red Crescent after four days without food or water.

He now feels overwhelming gratitude for being alive with his small family, seeing it as a chance for a new life despite losing so much to the floods.

Others had no chance. At least 11,300 people have died in Derna and more than 10,000 are missing, according to the Libyan Red Crescent. More than 30,000 people from Derna are now homeless, UN agencies warn.

Residents say the threat to the city from the crumbling dams above it had been widely known. They also blame authorities for failing to evacuate people in time.

The extensive destruction of the city highlights the fragility of Libya’s situation, a country rich in oil but divided between two competing administrations, each backed by armed militias for nearly a decade. The conflicts have persisted since the 2011 Nato-backed Arab spring uprising that toppled the late leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Derna is in the east, and until 2019 was held by a succession of Islamist militant groups including branches of al-Qaida and Islamic State.

Volunteers disinfect a field hospital in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya.
Volunteers disinfect a field hospital in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya. Photograph: Ayman Al-Sahili/Reuters

Both Libyan governments and foreign nations have collaborated to aid the affected but progress has been painfully slow. Bridges, roads and other infrastructure have been severely damaged, isolating the city. Electricity has been cut off, and the first relief convoys only reached the area late on Tuesday.

“After the tragic events witnessed in the Derna disaster, we must now seriously address the issue of other dams in Libya to prevent consequences we cannot bear,” said Ali Abu Zeid, a local political analyst.

Among these is the Al-Khums valley dam, which he said posed a real threat to the city of Al-Khums, and the Madjannin valley dam, which threatens large population centres in southern Tripoli.

It is crucial now to open a discussion about all the dams in Libya and take the necessary precautions, said Abu Zeid.

Hopes of finding survivors in Derna diminish every day. Specialised teams are working tirelessly, and local officials have warned of the potential need to evacuate the city entirely or partially to prevent the spread of diseases. The sea continues to wash up more bodies every day.

As the death toll and the number of missing persons rise, calls from within Derna and other areas for more vehicles, equipment, rescue teams, and services to aid in the search for the missing are growing louder.

Meanwhile, people wait anxiously in the rubble-filled streets for any good news they can cling to, hoping Derna may one day return to what it once was.

Reuters contributed to this report

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