A week after floods, Libyans haunted by fate of the missing

DERNA, Libya: Sabreen Blil was on her hands and knees atop the rubble of her brother’s house, the wind beating at her black robe as she clawed with her bare hands at the flattened masonry in hope of somehow digging to the family buried below.

She recited their names as she wept.

“Taym, Yazan, Luqman, Salmah, Tumador, Hakim and his wife. Oh my God. My family, where are you?” she wailed. “Oh God. Even just one – my God – just let me find even one body.”

A week after the flood that swept the centre of the Libyan city of Derna into the sea, families are still coping with the unbearable losses of their dead – and haunted by the unknown fates of the missing.

The centre of Derna is a wasteland, with stray dogs standing listlessly on muddy mounds where buildings once stood. Other buildings still somehow stand precariously above bottom floors that were mostly washed away. The legs of a store mannequin in dusty trousers stick out of the rubble in a ruined shopfront. Dams above the city burst in a storm a week ago that sent a huge torrent down a seasonal riverbed running through the centre of the Mediterranean city of 120,000 people.

Thousands are dead and thousands more missing. Officials using different methodologies have given widely varying figures of the tolls so far; the mayor estimates over 20,000 people were lost. The World Health Organization has confirmed 3,922 deaths.


Hundreds of people angrily protested in Derna on Wednesday, demanding accountability from authorities they said had done nothing to prevent the calamity despite advance warnings of the city’s vulnerability to flooding.

They lambasted regional officials and called for national unity in a country left politically ruptured by over a decade of conflict and chaos that have hampered the disaster response.

Demonstrator Taha Miftah, 39, demanded an international inquiry and “reconstruction under international supervision”.

Libya has been a failed state since a NATO-backed uprising that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Derna is in the east, beyond the control of an internationally recognised government in the west, and until 2019 was held by a succession of Islamist militant groups including branches of al Qaeda and Islamic State. Residents say the threat to Derna from the crumbling dams above it had been widely known, with projects to repair the dams stalled for more than a decade. They also blame authorities for failing to evacuate residents in time. A week after floods, Libyans haunted by fate of the missing

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