Derna (Libya) (AFP) – Emergency teams continued their search Friday for thousands of people still missing following a tsunami-sized flash flood that swept through the Libyan port city of Derna, killing at least 4,000 people.
Published on: Amended:
The huge surge of water burst two upstream dams on Sunday evening and reduced Derna to an apocalyptic wasteland where entire city blocks and countless numbers of people were swept into the Mediterranean.
Describing the situation as “catastrophic”, the United Nations launched an appeal for more than 71 million dollars (66.5 million euros) to meet the “most urgent needs of 250,000 people targeted out of the estimated 884,000 people in need”.
An AFP journalist in Derna said central neighborhoods on both sides of the river, which normally dries up at this time of year, appeared to have gone through a steamroller, uprooting trees and buildings and throwing up vehicles on the harbor breakwaters.
“Within seconds, the water level suddenly rose,” said an injured survivor who said he and his mother were swept away during the night’s ordeal before they both managed to rush into a building empty downstream.
“The water was rising with us until we got to the fourth floor, the water was rising to the second floor,” the unidentified man said from his hospital bed, in testimony published by the center medical center in Benghazi.
“We could hear screams. Through the window, I saw cars and dead bodies being washed away by the water. It lasted an hour or an hour and a half, but for us, it felt like a year.”
Seven meter wave
Hundreds of body bags now line the muddy streets of Derna, awaiting mass burials, while traumatized and grieving residents search mutilated buildings for their missing loved ones and bulldozers clear the streets of debris and sand mountains.
At a destroyed house, a rescue team pumped out the water to reveal the lifeless arms of a woman still holding her dead child, the AFP journalist reported.
“This disaster was violent and brutal,” said Yann Fridez, head of the Libyan delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who had a team in Derna when the waters hit.
“A seven meter high wave destroyed buildings and washed infrastructure into the sea. Today, family members have disappeared, corpses are washed ashore and houses are destroyed.”
Abdelaziz Bousmya, who lives in the Chiha district, spared by the wall of water which devastated the lowest neighborhoods, estimates that at least a tenth of the city’s 100,000 inhabitants were killed.
“I lost my friends, my loved ones. They are all either buried under mud or swept away by floodwaters,” the 29-year-old said.
The flooding was caused by hurricane-force Storm Daniel, compounded by poor infrastructure in Libya, which was plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Libya is now divided between two rival authorities: the UN-backed and internationally recognized government in Tripoli, and an administration based in the disaster-stricken east of the country.
The head of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, said many deaths could have been avoided if early warning and emergency management systems had worked properly in the war-torn country.
With better coordination, “they could have issued warnings and emergency management forces could have evacuated people, and we could have avoided most of the casualties,” Taalas said.
Access to Derna remains severely hampered as roads and bridges have been destroyed and power and telephone lines cut in large areas, where at least 30,000 people are now homeless.
The United Nations said that “with the collapse of most roads, the municipality (of Derna) urges the relevant authorities to establish a sea corridor for emergency relief and evacuations.”
Storm Daniel strengthened during an unusually hot summer and hit Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece earlier, flooding large areas and killing at least 27 people.
“Storm Daniel is yet another deadly reminder of the catastrophic impact that climate change can have on our world,” said UN Human Rights Commissioner Volker Turk.