Libya is grappling with the dire consequences of a colossal flood that swept through the coastal city of Derna earlier this week. Image by - CT design team.

Libya Races to Bury Dead as Floods Leave Thousands Missing

Libya is grappling with the dire consequences of a colossal flood that swept through the coastal city of Derna earlier this week.

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Libya is struggling to deal with the devastating aftermath of massive flooding that smashed through the coastal city of Derna earlier this week. Powerful storms caused two dams to burst, unleashing floodwaters that wiped out entire neighborhoods and left thousands missing or dead.

green grass field under blue sky during daytime
Photo by Justin Wilkens / Unsplash

With morgues overflowing and the living searching desperately for missing loved ones, the nation is racing to bury the dead in accordance with Islamic tradition. But the sheer scale of the destruction is hampering recovery efforts.

On September 11, 2023, in the eastern Libyan town of Derna, a young boy diligently drags a suitcase through an area marred by the aftermath of a flash flood, navigating his way amidst debris. Image by - AFP/Getty Image

Racing Against Time

According to hospital staff and officials from Libya's eastern parliament-backed government, flooding has so far claimed at least 5,000 lives in Derna, a city that was once home to over 100,000 residents. An estimated 10,000 more people remain unaccounted for – either washed out to sea or buried under rubble.

man soaked in body of water
Photo by Constant Loubier / Unsplash

Emergency crews are sifting through piles of debris in a bid to find survivors and retrieve bodies. However, the devastation caused by Storm Daniel across the city's roads and infrastructure has made rescue operations extremely difficult.

On September 12, 2023, in Derna, Libya, the aftermath of Storm Daniel left a vehicle trapped amidst debris, bearing the brunt of the flooding. Image by - Abdullah Mohammed Bonja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Authorities are also rushing to give the deceased proper burials within three days, as mandated by Islamic customs. But morgues are overflowing with victims, leaving no space to honor the dead.

person riding blue boat
Photo by Jos Zwaan / Unsplash

"The Martyrs' committee has been set up to identify the missing people and to implement procedures for identifying and burial of in accordance with Sharia and legal laws and standards," said Libya's minister of state for cabinet affairs, Adel Juma.

Agonizing Wait for Families

The utter destruction of Derna's communications network has added to the agony for grieving families. With phone lines down, those outside Libya have no way to contact missing loved ones trapped in the disaster zone.

On September 11, 2023, within the eastern Libyan town of Derna, a shop ravaged by a flash flood reveals the forlorn sight of toys scattered amidst the wreckage. Image by - AFP/Getty Image

"I'm really worried about them. I have two cousins who live in Derna. It seems all communications are down and I don't know if they are alive at this point. It is very terrifying watching the videos coming out of Derna. "We're all gripped by fear," said Ayah, a Palestinian woman who has family ties to Derna, in her conversation with CNN.

person standing on brown rock formation during daytime
Photo by Intricate Explorer / Unsplash

The lack of contact and sheer scale of the catastrophe has sparked panic and anxiety among the Libyan diaspora awaiting news of their families' fate. Until the debris can be cleared and communications restored, the agonizing wait continues.

Overwhelming a Vulnerable Nation

The multi-day deluge and subsequent flooding has highlighted Libya's extreme vulnerability to natural disasters. The country has spent over a decade embroiled in civil war and political chaos after the toppling of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

white and brown sea waves
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann / Unsplash

"Libya was ill-equipped to handle a disaster of this magnitude," commented Osama Aly, a spokesperson for Emergency and Ambulance services.

a large body of water with trees in it
Photo by rachman reilli / Unsplash

The country is currently governed by rival administrations based in Tripoli and the eastern city of Tobruk, with numerous militias controlling different patches of territory. Derna itself lies under the domain of commander Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army.

bird's eye view of river
Photo by Justin Wilkens / Unsplash

This fragmentation has undermined coherent disaster preparation and relief efforts. The mammoth scale of this crisis has overwhelmed Libya's already fragile infrastructure and governance systems.

Catastrophic Storm and Flooding

The heavy flooding was triggered by Storm Daniel, an unusually strong low-pressure system that initially hit Greece before moving into the Mediterranean Sea. It quickly escalated into a tropical cyclone prior to making landfall on Libya's northern coast.

people walking on street during daytime
Photo by Misbahul Aulia / Unsplash

The worst affected city was Derna, situated around 190 miles east of Benghazi. Two dams south of the city unexpectedly burst under the immense rainfall, sending a wall of water crashing into the streets below.

blue plastic boat on body of water during daytime
Photo by Jéan Béller / Unsplash

Entire seaside neighborhoods were washed away by the raging torrents. The horrific scenes of destruction shocked the nation. To date, Derna accounts for the vast majority of lives lost and missing.

Urgent International Mobilization

With Libya's government overwhelmed, international assistance is mobilizing to address immense humanitarian needs.

brown house
Photo by Sadiq Nafee / Unsplash

The International Rescue Committee called the floods an "unprecedented crisis" and is coordinating relief efforts on the ground. Other nations are also lending aid:

  • Turkey has deployed search and rescue teams along with planeloads of humanitarian supplies.
  • Italy is sending specialized civil defense teams to help with emergency operations.
  • The United Arab Emirates is providing humanitarian aid and rescue personnel.
  • The United States has authorized initial funding for relief efforts and is working with the UN to target assistance.

"We must remember that Libya is not just a country in crisis; it is also a gateway for people on the move to Europe," said Ciaran Donelly of the International Rescue Committee, underscoring the need for global support.

Ongoing Recovery Challenges

Even with international assistance, Libya faces monumental challenges in recovering from its deadliest natural disaster in living memory.

The exhaustive search for bodies continues in Derna amidst the overwhelming destruction. Clearing debris and restoring infrastructure will take significant time.

Medical facilities urgently need to be repaired to treat injured survivors. Water and electricity must be reconnected. Shelter and supplies are desperately required for tens of thousands left homeless.

Furthermore, the breakdown in communications has severely hampered rescue operations and contact with the outside world. Restoring phone networks and internet access is critical.

For families still missing loved ones, the days ahead will be filled with agonizing uncertainty until contact can be reestablished. Psychosocial support will be needed for thousands coping with grief and trauma.

The devastating floods have scarred families and communities across Libya. Rebuilding shattered lives along with homes and infrastructure will require unity and resilience during this time of profound loss.

This news article summarizes the key details surrounding the catastrophic flooding in Libya and the monumental recovery efforts now underway.

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