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Libya: Thousands feared dead after storm Daniel

September 12, 2023

The powerful Mediterranean storm battered eastern Libya swept people into the sea, officials said. An international aid director told DW that Libya is witnessing a "large-scale disaster."

Debris and mud on the streets of Derna
Derna has been declared a disafter areaImage: AA/picture alliance

Thousands are feared dead after the massive storm Daniel tore through eastern Libya, one of the country's rival leaders, Ossama Hamad, said Monday. 

Hamad said 2,000 people are feared dead and as many as 5,000 more people are missing.  

Hamad's government in the east rivals a United Nations-backed government in Libya's official capital Tripoli. 

The city of Derna has been declared a disaster zone after two dams above the city broke, "sweeping whole neighborhoods with their residents into the sea," according to Ahmed Mismari, a spokesperson for the Libyan National Army that controls eastern Libya.

Tamer Ramadan, the head of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' (IFRC) delegation in Libya, told DW that the North African country is experiencing a "large-scale disaster" that "goes beyond the abilities of the Libyan government and the national society." 

Libya floods leave thousands feared dead

What do we know so far?

As of late Monday, the official confirmed death toll from the weekend flooding sat at 61. However, this tally did not take into account Derna, which had become inaccessible. 

The latest estimate for Derna was 150 dead, but aid officials expected that figure to reach 250.

Videos posted online by residents of the city showed major devastation, with entire residential areas erased.

Footage aired on Libyan television also showed people stranded on the roofs of their vehicles calling for help, and cars being washed away by the water.

Georgette Gagnon, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya, said dozens of villages and towns were "severely affected ... with widespread flooding, damage to infrastructure, and loss of life."

A view of the area as many settlements, vehicles and workplaces have been damaged after floods caused by heavy rains hit the region in Misrata
Flooding also engulfed districts in the western city of MisrataImage: Emhmmed Mohamed Kshiem/AA/picture alliance

Aid begins flowing in

The internationally recognized government in Tripoli has called for overseas aid.

"We call on brotherly and friendly countries and international organizations to provide assistance," said the three-person Presidential Council.

On Monday night, Turkey dispatched three aircraft carrying search and rescue workers.

The president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also pledged to send search and rescue teams to eastern Libya.

The governments of neighboring Algeria and Egypt also sent condolences in the aftermath of the disaster. 

Overturned cars in Derna, Libya
Entire neighborhoods were destroyed by floodsImage: AA/picture alliance

IFRC Libya chief Ramadan said his aid organization had the support of both rival governments in Benghazi and Tripoli.

"The government in Tripoli will be sending medical assistance and medical convoys to the east to support in rescuing the affected population,"  Ramadan said. 

Years of infrastructure neglect

The eastern government in Libya is not internationally recognized, but rules in swaths of the country controlled by General Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA was said to be involved in rescue operations.

Derna, a city formerly held by Islamic extremists amid the chaos that enveloped Libya for more than a decade, suffers from crumbling and inadequate infrastructure. 

The country has been mired in violence since a NATO-supported uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi who was later killed.

zc, rc/jcg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)