Libya floods – latest updates: Number of dead soars to 11,300 – as desperate search for survivors continues amid devastation


Libya floods - latest updates: Number of dead soars to 11,300 - as desperate search for survivors continues amid devastation

Key points
    11,300 people killed – with number of deaths expected to rise
    Rescuers scramble to save more than 10,000 missingWhat happened?Alex Crawford: It sounded like explosion, after explosion, after explosion | ‘We saw friends being swept away in front of us’Yousra Elbagir: Family of 27 swept away after sheltering at schoolCivilians blocked from entering flood-stricken city
    Live reporting by Emily Mee

10:07:27 ‘Dam of death’: Libya survivors had just minutes to escape tsunami-like torrent

The sheer numbers of people dead or unaccounted for in the Libyan city of Derna is overwhelming survivors, who say they had minutes to get away before the coastal city was devastated by a tsunami-like torrent.

You can read our full report on this below…

10:00:37 Entire families swept into the sea, with women and children heard screaming

By Yousra Elbagir, Africa correspondent, near Derna

Locals now call Wadi Derna the dam of death. 

In a moment’s notice, the structure unleashed tens of millions of cubic meters of floodwater on the Derna’s residents. 

The torrents swept generational homes and entire families into the Mediterranean sea – leaving onlooking survivors in a state of shock and horror. 

As we walked across the emptied river bed, residents stood on the precipice of the cliffs. Their eyes stuck on what was once the dam. 

A collapsed ridge of concrete and a debris-filled cylindrical pipe flung to the side. A road that connected the valley is now shredded – the two sides of tarmac reaching over the edge to each other.

This is a site of swift, colossal damage.

“We will never forget what happened here,” says Safwat Ashraf, a 24-year-old teacher.

“Our community feels destroyed. It’s a small tight-knit city where everyone knows each other. Our friends and families are all gone.”

Ms Ashraf’s house is on one of the higher plains. Across from their home, a primary and secondary school sits battered on the valley’s edge. Its wall was ripped apart and thrown into the river bed. 

Ms Ashraf said she heard the screams of women and children who had sought shelter in the school. 

Residents tell us that one family climbed up to the school from their house to stay safe from the torrential rainfall of Cyclone Daniel. 

The water unleashed by the Wadi Derna dam, a second and final barrier to one higher upstream, killed 27 members of the family.

Tree trunks and large twisted roots jut out of the skeletal school structure. The yard – now wall-less and exposed – opens out to the mouth of the valley and into the Mediterranean Sea.

Residents sit on the edge and look out at a scene of utter destruction. A vein has cut through their town. Diggers claw at silt-covered riverbed to find those buried and left behind by the receding waters.

One man, Moji Mohamed, is holding the hand of his four-year old son as he looks around disbelievingly. 

He tells me he’s lost his elder brother, aunt and five cousins. 

I ask how long he’s lived in Derna and he said his grandfather was born here 150 years ago.

This coastal city has endured Islamist extremism and years of political chaos during Libya’s civil war. 

Overnight, the years of neglect and mismanagement Derna has faced was laid bare in the shape of two broken dams. With a flood warning that came from nature, but not from their government.

09:50:24 Aid handed out in Derna

Displaced residents in Derna are receiving aid this morning.

Private schools and parents have been helping to hand out the aid.

09:38:02 How has conflict in Libya had an impact?

The devastation in Libya has highlighted the country’s vulnerability.

Although oil-rich, Libya has seen a widespread neglect of instracture. 

It has been divided between rival governments for most of the past decade, with one in the east and the other in the capital, Tripoli.

The two dams that collapsed outside the eastern city of Derna were built in the 1970s. 

In 2021, a report by a state-run audit agency said the dams had not been maintained – despite more than €2m being allocated for that purpose in 2012 and 2013.

Libya’s Tripoli-based prime minister, Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah, yesterday called for the public prosecutor to open an urgent investigation into the dams’ collapse.

The disaster has brought some rare unity, with government agencies across the country rushing to help the affected areas. 

The Tobruk-based government of eastern Libya is leading relief efforts, but the Tripoli-based western government has allocated the equivalent of $412 million for reconstruction in Derna.

09:15:01 Woman who lost family members breaks down in tears

We’ve just been speaking to a woman who grew up in the Libyan city of Derna and has family members still there. 

Salima Elzouki says she lost a cousin, in-laws and friends in the disaster – and some loved ones are still missing. 

“First of all we lost the connection completely for around 48 hours so I didn’t hear from them for a long time,” she said.

Eventually, she heard from family members in other cities who confirmed some of her relatives were alive but others were still missing. 

She broke down in tears as she detailed her loss, adding that sadness was not enough to describe how she felt. 

Ms Elzouki said she had previously lived with her family in Derna in one place. 

“That’s why some families were demolished completely, because they lived together,” she said. 

She said it was once a “beautiful city”, set on the sea with a view of the mountains.

08:57:40 ‘We saw friends being swept away in front of us’

By Alex Crawford, special correspondent, at the centre of Derna in eastern Libya

A structural engineer in Derna – the east Libyan city torn apart by extreme flooding – has told us the catastrophic disaster was down to negligence. 

“They should have known,” Gandi Mohammed Hammoud said as he looked aghast at his city’s devastation. 

He said he watched as his neighbours and friends screamed in terror while the torrent of water tore apart their homes and flats.

“Then it went silent – which means they died,” he tells us. “We saw some friends literally being swept away in front of us.”

Mr Hammoud says there had been plenty of warnings from engineers about the poor state of the city’s two dams and how several more needed to be built to halt the water caused by increasingly heavy yearly rainfall. 

“Nothing has been done since 2008 and after the revolution to strengthen the two dams,” he told us. 

The instability, poor governance, corruption and mafia-style politicking, including a network of people-smuggling gangs, has all conspired to make this tragedy. 

Many Libyans believe the bombing during the NATO-backed military campaign to oust the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi also weakened the structures. 

“Someone should pay for these deaths,” Mr Hammoud said. “Someone should be held accountable for what happened here.”

08:48:49 Few rescuers hold out hope of finding anyone alive

By Alex Crawford, special correspondent, at the centre of Derna in eastern Libya

The centre of the eastern city of Derna is like one big graveyard – a mass of flattened buildings, wrecked lives and upended vehicles amid torn trees.

Huge nine-storey buildings have been ripped off their foundations and smothered by volumes of mud. 

From where I’m standing, at least three huge bridges in the city centre are levelled. 

As we walk through the mountains of rubble, boulders and rocks, we have to keep reminding ourselves these were once people’s homes – this was once a street packed with shops and malls. Even the road is now non-existent.

A few hours after daybreak and there are small groups of civilians, some with just pickaxes, trampling over the boulders and rubble left in Derna centre in the wake of Storm Daniel.

They tell us they’ve travelled from Tobruk and Misrata and Benghazi to help in what must be a truly awful task. 

Six days on, they’re among several small groups setting out to try to locate their missing relatives who are included in the thousands still unaccounted for – more than 10,000 at the last count. 

There are a few groups of soldiers too, as well as pockets of health workers dressed in blue hospital gowns and wearing masks to save them from the stench of death that hangs over this whole area. 

The steaming heat has meant the corpses they’re finding are putrid after nearly a week of decomposing. 

They carry body bags. Few here still hold out hope of finding anyone alive.

08:45:40 Civilians blocked from entering flood-stricken city

Libyan authorities are preventing civilians from entering the eastern port city of Derna today to allow search teams to look through the mud and wrecked buildings.

As we’ve been reporting, 10,100 are still missing – with many thought to be buried under the rubble.

Derna was being evacuated and only search and rescue teams would be allowed to enter, Salam al-Fergany, director general of the Ambulance and Emergency Service in eastern Libya, announced late yesterday.

Government agencies across Libya’s divide have rushed to help the affected areas in a rare moment of unity. 

The first aid convoys arrived in Derna on Tuesday evening, but relief efforts have been slowed by the destruction of several bridges.

08:42:00 Family of 27 swept away after sheltering at school

We’ve also been hearing from our Africa correspondent Yousra Elbagir, who is near the city of Derna. 

She’s in the grounds of a school which has been “completely ripped apart by the floods”.

“We were told that people who sought shelter here, that left their houses further downhill, came uphill, were completely
swept away,” she says.

“The wall that encased the yard of the school has been completely destroyed.

“We’ve been told by residents that a family of 27 people – men, women and children – were swept away. The house they fled from is just under this hill.” 

People nearby are “in shock” and some of them are “hunched over”, wondering how such a disaster could happen with no forewarning from authorities.

Elbagir adds: “People here feel utterly let down.”

08:25:22 ‘Some people went to sleep thinking they were safe’

More now from our special correspondent Alex Crawford, in the devastated city of Derna. 

“The locals talk about this crash, this enormous crescendo of noise, and they were given such a small amount of time to get out of the way,” she says.

“This is a storm which had been sweeping across a number of Mediterranean countries, so they had many days to prepare for this.

“Instead, in some cases, they were told to stay in their homes.

“We’ve been talking to survivors who said some of the people went to sleep that night thinking that they were safe, and then this utter torrent, this vicious bang of water literally lifted buildings, ripped the whole sides off… you can imagine the massive torrent of water.”

Residents have talked about a torrent of water about 30 metres high, which has cut the city of two. 

“We’re on one side of it, and there’s more rescue work on the other side,” Crawford says.

“You can see now soldiers, health workers, workers in hazmat suits, many of them wearing masks, because there is quite a strong smell of corpses in the area.”

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