Libya’s deadly floods: what we know

This is what we know so far about the extreme weather event that hit the war-torn North African country.

September 15, 2023 04:15 pm | Updated September 19, 2023 06:16 pm IST - Tripoli

An Egyptian barge is seen at sea, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 14, 2023.

An Egyptian barge is seen at sea, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Flash flooding in east Libya caused by Storm Daniel tore through the coastal city of Derna, leaving nearly 4,000 people dead, 10,000 missing and entire neighbourhoods in ruins.

This is what we know so far about the extreme weather event that hit war-torn Libya.

Dams burst

On Sunday afternoon, Storm Daniel made landfall on Libya’s east coast after earlier lashing Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.

It touched Benghazi before veering towards the Jabal al-Akhdar district towns of Shahat, Al-Marj, Al-Bayda, Susa and Derna, devastating that city of 100,000 people.

Derna lies in a river wadi 900 kilometres (560 miles) east of the capital Tripoli.

Relief convoys enter Derna city, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 15, 2023.

Relief convoys enter Derna city, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 15, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Overnight, two dams on Wadi Derna burst, unleashing torrents of water that destroyed bridges and swept away entire neighbourhoods before spilling into the Mediterranean.

Roads that were already in a poor state were cut, and access to some affected areas became impossible.

Huge toll

Officials in the east of the divided country give different toll estimates, with one speaking of at least 3,840 dead.

However, most fear the figure will be far higher.

Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Tuesday “the death toll is huge and might reach thousands”, with another 10,000 missing.

The International Organization for Migration on Wednesday said at least 30,000 people were displaced in Derna, as well as 3,000 in Al-Bayda, 1,000 in Al-Mkheley and 2,085 in Benghazi.

A view shows a damaged building, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 14, 2023.

A view shows a damaged building, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said late Thursday an estimated 884,000 people directly impacted by the storm and flash floods in five provinces need assistance.

Authorities mobilise

The authorities in Libya’s east and west, faced by the appalling human and material devastation caused by the floods, have mobilised, taking emergency measures to come to the aid of those stricken by the disaster.

Aid convoys from Tripolitania in the west have been sent to Derna.

The internationally recognised Tripoli government of Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah said it was sending two air ambulances and a helicopter, as well as rescuers, 87 doctors, canine search teams and workers to try to restore electricity.

International response

Relief missions have gathered pace with Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates among the first nations to rush aid to the disaster-hit country.

The United Nations has launched an appeal for more than $71 million to aid the hundreds of thousands in need.

The world body also called for a sea corridor to be established for emergency relief and evacuations.

A view shows people inspecting the damaged areas, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 14, 2023.

A view shows people inspecting the damaged areas, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The European Union said assistance from Germany, Romania and Finland had been dispatched including hospital tents and power generators, as well as food, water tanks and blankets.

The United States, Algeria, Qatar, Italy, France and Tunisia have all also offered assistance.

The United Arab Emirates sent two aid planes carrying 150 tonnes of food, relief and medical supplies.

Kuwait sent a plane with 40 tonnes of supplies, and Jordan sent a military aircraft loaded with food parcels, tents, blankets and mattresses.

Egypt’s armed forces chief of staff, an ally of east Libya military strongman Khalifa Haftar, flew to Benghazi on Tuesday aboard a plane loaded with relief supplies and personnel, reports said.

‘Medicane’

Storm Daniel gathered strength during an unusually hot summer and earlier lashed Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece, flooding vast areas and killing at least 27 people.

Climate experts say it bears the features of tropical cyclones and hurricanes known as “medicanes” which tend to form in the Mediterranean near the North African coast.

Medicanes form once or twice per year on average, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

A view shows people inspecting the damaged areas, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 14, 2023.

A view shows people inspecting the damaged areas, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

While scientists generally avoid direct links between individual weather events and long-term global warming, Storm Daniel “is illustrative of the type of devastating flooding event we may expect increasingly in the future”, said Lizzie Kendon, a climate science professor at the University of Bristol.

The EU’s climate monitoring service Copernicus said rising global sea surface temperatures were driving record levels of heat across the globe, with 2023 likely to be the warmest in human history.

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