A week after the flood that swept the center of the city of Derna into the sea, families are still coping with the unbearable losses of their dead and haunted by the unknown fates of the missing. They also struggle to comprehend the scale of the disaster that swept through Libya and other countries along the Mediterranean coast when two dams collapsed, and whole neighborhoods were washed away.
The floodwaters ripped through Derna on Sunday night after storms unleashed a torrent of water from the seasonal river valley that runs through the city, swallowing cars and houses with them. It flooded apartment buildings, office blocks, and the beach promenade. Residents say they had no warning and no time to escape. The harrowing scenes have drawn international condemnation and prompted fears of waterborne disease and explosive ordnance that may have shifted during the flooding.
Derna is a port city bisected by a river valley draining south from the highlands. The valley was generally protected from flooding by dams built upstream, but those dams were weakened by the powerful storms that hit on Monday. One video posted on social media shows remnants of the old dam, now surrounded by vast pools of muddy-colored water.
For residents living by the river valley, it was only a matter of time before the waters arrived, said Nasib Almnsori. He lives in the nearby town of Tobruk but has family in Derna. He says his brother desperately attempted to escape by car, attempting to drive across the flooding river at the end of a road wholly cut off by the water.
But he was swept away by the floodwaters. He hasn’t been seen since, and family members are convinced he is dead. Almnsori has spent the week trying to find his brother and cope with the loss of his loved ones.
Across Derna, bodies are being recovered from the ruins of homes and businesses that were washed away. The city’s mayor of 120,000 has estimated that thousands of people were killed in the disaster. Officials have offered wildly differing figures on how many are confirmed dead or missing, but the death toll is expected to rise. A week after the flood, authorities are still working to recover bodies and distribute aid. And they’re facing the difficult task of communicating with Libyans in a country fractured by war and divided into rival administrations, each backed by armed militias. CBC’s Huda Akram reports from Benghazi, Libya.