Flood-hit Libyan city experiences ‘judgment day’

By | September 13, 2023

The population of the flood-hit city of Derna is experiencing “doomsday”, a Libyan journalist has told the BBC.

More than 5,300 people died after floods collapsed two dams in the eastern city and swept away homes.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Johr Ali said survivors reported scenes of utter devastation.

He said entire families were swept away by powerful waters. A friend found his “nephew dead in the street, thrown away by water falling from the roof.”

The journalist – who lives in exile in Istanbul due to attacks on journalists in Libya – said another friend of his lost his entire family in the disaster.

“I was next to him, I heard the news of the death of [his friends’] entire family,” Mr. Ali recalled.

“His mother, his father, his two brothers, his sister Maryam and his wife – his newlywed wife – who he sent to Libya to visit his family just two weeks ago, and his eight-month-old baby.

“All those are dead, his whole family is dead and he’s asking me what I should do.”

In another case, Mr Ali said a survivor had told him that he had seen “a woman hanging from the lampposts, because she had been washed away by the floods and was hanged from the lampposts”.

“She stayed and died there,” Mr Ali added.

The port city had a population of around 90,000 people before this week’s disaster. Officials say around 10,000 people are feared to remain missing, some of them simply swept away by powerful flood waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

The streets of Derna are covered in mud and rubble and are littered with overturned vehicles. Ali said that of the city’s 10 geographic districts, only three survived the floods.

He added that a constant soundtrack of young children’s cries now flooded the city.

Meanwhile, dozens of people and aid workers are combing Derna looking for survivors, and many fear being trapped under the collapsed buildings.

“People hear babies crying underground and don’t know how to reach them,” Mr Ali said.

“People use shovels to dig bodies out from under the ground, they use their hands. There are photos from the city of people pulling bodies out with their bare hands.

“The situation is more than catastrophic.”

Libya is divided between two rival governments: the internationally recognized interim one, which operates from Tripoli, and a rival one in the east.

The disaster prompted rare displays of cooperation between the competing powers. Humanitarian planes carrying medical supplies were sent to the eastern city of Benghazi from Tripoli on Tuesday.

But party lines remain sharply drawn elsewhere, with Khalifa Haftar – commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army that controls the east – ignoring international promises of support from allies of Western authorities based in Tripoli.

Ali was quick to condemn both regimes, which he believes are failing to respond effectively enough.

“Unfortunately the country is divided between two governments, and unfortunately those two weak and unqualified governments have not received the help that the people need,” Ali told the BBC.

And while the United Nations has pledged to support relief efforts, and the Red Cross says its teams are active at the scene, Ali said only minimal supplies have managed to reach survivors.

“On the ground, the city of Derna has only received aid from Turkey, and only on a small scale,” he said.

“There are so many people without shelter, without food, without clean water. People themselves are trying to help each other.

“What we need right now is large-scale international support, coming immediately to help people.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *