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Libya Floods Leave Over 10,000 Missing After Derna Dams Burst, Officials Say Total Deaths May Surpass 5,000
At least two dams near the Libyan coastal city of Derna burst amid heavy rains, triggering massive flooding that has left over 10,000 people missing and feared dead. The death toll has climbed past 5,000 and is expected to rise further as more bodies are recovered.
Entire neighborhoods in Derna were submerged or washed away after the dams collapsed on Saturday, with flood waters sweeping countless victims out to sea. The devastating floods have been described as "disastrous beyond comprehension."
- Two dams burst near Derna, Libya on Saturday after heavy rains, causing catastrophic flash flooding.
- As of Tuesday, the death toll climbed over 5,300 confirmed dead, according to local officials.
- But over 10,000 people are still missing, and officials say total deaths could exceed 10,000 as more bodies are found.
- Vast areas of Derna were submerged or washed away, with many victims swept out to sea likely never to be recovered.
- The Red Cross described the situation as disastrous and said Derna will need major humanitarian relief efforts.
- Citizens took to social media pleading for help finding missing loved ones amid the chaos.
- Officials admitted they failed to heed engineers' warnings that the aging dams were at risk of bursting and to evacuate people.
A City Washed Away by the Floods
Survivors and aerial footage reveal the sheer devastation left by the flood waters ravaging Derna. Entire neighborhoods situated along the valley slopes simply vanished, leaving scenes of utter devastation.
"The situation is disastrous beyond comprehension," said Rami Elshaheibi of the World Health Organization. "Bodies are lying everywhere - in the sea, in the valleys, under the buildings. I am not exaggerating when I say that 25% of the city has disappeared."
Videos circulated on social media capturing the horrific moments when the raging torrents engulfed homes in an instant. Frantic screaming can be heard as residents desperately tried to escape the sudden deluge.
Other footage shows thebrown caustic flood waters carrying away vehicles like toys through Derna's streets-turned-rivers. Even large concrete buildings were unable to withstand the raging currents.
With communications and power severed, survivors took to social media to plead for help finding family members swept away by the floods. But the chances of identifying missing loved ones grow slimmer as more bodies are recovered.
Red Cross: 10,000 Missing, Mass Burials Underway
The International Red Cross Federation reported that over 10,000 people remain missing several days after the dams gave way near Derna.
The organization expects the death toll to eventually exceed 10,000 people once more victims are recovered. But many bodies have likely been washed far out to sea and may never be found.
Tariq al-Kharraz, a local official, confirmed that entire neighborhoods were simply erased by the flooding. With so many dead, local cemeteries rapidly filled up with bodies. Many could not even be identified before mass burials.
Hundreds of corpses are still being discovered along flood channels, beaches, and buried in the debris. The dire situation poses major health risks that could lead to outbreaks of disease.
But the focus remains on search and recovery efforts, with the slim hope of still finding survivors trapped in pockets beneath the rubble. Based on the scale of the catastrophe, Derna will require substantial humanitarian assistance for months to come.
Engineers Warned Derna Dams Were at Risk
While the record rains from Storm Daniel played a role, officials also admitted ignoring clear warnings that Derna's dams were vulnerable to collapse.
Engineers had flagged the dire state of the two dams and urged repairs and upgrades to brace for heavy rainfall. There were also calls to develop emergency action plans to evacuate citizens in the event of a breach.
But local authorities failed to heed the warnings or prepare contingency plans. This oversight proved catastrophic once the aging dams reached their breaking point.
An academic study from 2022 explicitly warned that a major flood event could cause the dams to fail and put Derna at grave risk. This foresight makes the lack of action to safeguard residents all the more damning.
Derna's Marginalization in Chaotic Libya
The neglected infrastructure and haphazard development that exacerbated the flooding speak to wider woes in Libya's chaotic governance.
Despite oil wealth, investment in public services has dried up during the conflict between rival eastern and western governments. Building regulations go largely unenforced.
Derna itself faced marginalization after being captured in 2018 by General Khalifa Haftar, the warlord controlling eastern Libya. Resources flowed to other eastern cities like Benghazi and Tobruk under Haftar's domain.
This second-class treatment of Derna helped allow safety issues with the dams to fester until disaster struck.
The lack of advance warning or evacuation points to the corrosion of basic functioning governance needed to protect citizens from threats like natural disasters.
Ongoing Civil War Impedes Disaster Response
The bifurcated Libyan state continues to hamper response efforts to the Derna floods.
While international aid arrives, coordination between the eastern and western governments remains lacking. This slows deploying assets and personnel to where they're most needed.
Western leader Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh has sought to send medical supplies and teams to the affected sites. But eastern authorities under General Haftar have denied the Prime Minister's government formal role in the Derna relief effort.
Unfortunately, factional bickering takes precedence over cooperating to save lives - a pattern repeated throughout Libya's civil war.
Rebuilding both physical infrastructure and legitimate governing institutions will be crucial to protect Libyans from both man-made and natural catastrophes going forward.
Outlook: Reconciliation and Climate Preparedness Needed
The Derna floods offer the starkest evidence yet of how Libya's divisions continue to imperil its citizens' lives.
A national reconciliation process is desperately needed to form a unified leadership that can deliver security and spur reconstruction.
In addition to rebuilding damaged dams and housing, authorities must heed engineers' calls to reinforce infrastructure against extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change.
Emergency response plans with clear evacuation protocols are vital to prevent repeats of the chaos that cost so many lives in Derna.
While nothing can undo the horrors inflicted on Derna's people, Libyans must unite to care for survivors, remember the victims, and create a more resilient nation prepared to face future trials.
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