A torrent unleashed by a powerful storm burst dams on Sunday night and hurtled down a seasonal riverbed that bisects the eastern city of Derna, washing multi-storey buildings into the sea with sleeping families inside.
Confirmed death tolls given by officials have varied. All are in the thousands, with thousands more on lists of the missing. Derna Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi said deaths in the city could already reach 18,000-20,000, based on the extent of the damage.
He told Reuters he was afraid the city would now be infected with an epidemic, “due to the large number of bodies under the rubble and in the water”.
The World Meteorological Organization said the huge loss of life could have been avoided if Libya – a failed state for more than a decade – had a functioning weather agency in place.
“If there would have been a normally operating meteorological service, they could have issued warnings,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalashe said in Geneva. “The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out evacuation of the people. And we could have avoided most of the human casualties.”
Other commentators drew attention to warnings given in advance, including an academic paper published last year by a hydrologist outlining the city’s vulnerability to floods and the urgent need to maintain the dams that protected it.
Mohamed al-Menfi, head of the three-member council that acts as the presidency in Libya’s internationally recognised government, said on X that the council had asked the attorney general to investigate the disaster.
Those whose actions or failure to act were responsible for the failure of the dam should be held accountable, along with anyone who held up aid, he said.Follow TKG on Twitter & Facebook