A war zone has been established in Derna after Libya’s catastrophic flooding
Derna was like a ghost town when I arrived in the early morning hours. Early this week, flash floods decimated the city, destroying homes and streets.
There was destruction and damage everywhere you looked, even at night. It was a scene of utter devastation in the light of day.
We felt like we were driving into a war zone when our team traveled into the area with the Libyan National Army (LNA).
Libyan officials and aid groups estimate that more than 5,000 people have been killed and thousands more are missing, but estimates vary.
There is a widespread belief that the death toll in Derna will only increase significantly in the following days, according to everyone CNN spoke to there.
As officials told us, the devastation and loss of life occurred within 90 minutes after two dams above Derna burst, causing flood waters to sweep through the city, destroying entire neighborhoods, homes, and infrastructure.
There is shock among the people. As a result of the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in 2011, Libya has been in turmoil for years.
What happened still seems incomprehensible to them. Although they are used to war and death, nothing could have prepared them for this: it feels like a whole city has been destroyed.
In the pitch-dark of an otherwise pitch-black street, two young men sat around a fire near a large handwritten board reading “Sad Derna.” Their shoes were covered in mud, and their clothes were dusty. As the LNA escort passed, they waved, smiled, and made a “V” hand gesture.
The city’s officials are dealing with search and rescue efforts, recovery efforts, draining flood waters, and helping displaced people – situations they have never dealt with before. There is still a search for survivors, according to an official on CNN.
Days after the wall of water swept through Derna, bodies are still washing up on its shores.
People’s detritus can also be seen in the Mediterranean waters – homes, doorframes, windows, furniture, clothes, cars – everything.
In the meantime, the International Organization for Migration reported Thursday that at least 30,000 people have been displaced. The welfare of survivors is becoming increasingly important.
The ICRC’s Libya delegation head said residents would have to wait “many months, perhaps years” before they can recover from Storm Daniel’s devastation.
As a result of the flooding, roads and bridges have been damaged, making it difficult to access the city and surrounding areas. Normally, it would take three hours to drive from Benghazi airport to Derna, but it took more than seven hours on Thursday night.
In combination with an uncertain security situation, humanitarian aid has difficulty getting through. At least for now, some Libyans told CNN that this tragedy has brought the country together.
As a result of the civil war that erupted in 2014, Libya now has two rival governments: the eastern parliament-backed Benghazi government and the internationally recognized Tripoli government.
On the way from Benghazi, however, many cars could be seen coming in from different cities across Libya – from the far west and mountains, to the coastal city of Misrata in the south – carrying volunteers and aid.
There were some drivers who spray-painted their cars or flew flags with messages such as “brotherly solidarity” or “rushing to our brothers’ aid.”
Volunteers from across the country are pouring into Derna to help with recovery efforts. CNN reported that some officials were not equipped to handle such a crisis.
Volunteers tied ropes around their bodies to dive into the sea and haul out bodies, according to one young man. During one day, he removed 40 bodies by himself.
Volunteers say they need heavy equipment to remove large objects from the sea, such as cars that may contain dead bodies. According to them, they need divers and diving equipment.
In addition to the Turkish rescue team on the rubber boat, there is some international support here. However, it is nowhere near enough to deal with this catastrophe.
The aid influx at Benina airport in Benghazi was not as large as one might have expected following such a catastrophe.
The LNA officials said, however, that the support they have received from countries that have sent teams has helped them cope with an unprecedented crisis.
A great deal of pain
On Friday afternoon, a social media activist from Misrata came to Derna to assist with rescue operations. Mohammad Shteiwi said eight bodies had been pulled from the water by international diving teams.
In a phone call, he said divers had seen hundreds of bodies about 15-20 kilometers east of Derna harbor.
In the last two days, I have seen so many bodies. The shoreline was covered with at least 200 bodies. Buildings swallowed bodies and pushed them back to shore after the sea swallowed them. There are many numbers floating around, and the statistics are not accurate. I can only tell you that the operations are ongoing. It was my own effort to remove the bodies.”
As for Shteiwi, he said his “heart aches for all those who have been lost,” but he saw a positive sign with Libyans from east and west coming together.
The security forces that were once divided are now working together as if their differences had never existed. I am hurt to see that this unification was brought about by immense misery and suffering.”
The news reference is CNN