Torrential rain from a storm that swept across the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend caused two dams to burst in Derna, a coastal city in northeast Libya, killing at least 5,200 people and washing entire neighborhoods out to sea. Thousands more were missing in Derna and other flooded areas, and the death toll is likely to rise, local officials said.
Rescue efforts are underway, but it is unclear how much aid has made it to people. The devastating floods have blocked roads and effectively cut off access to Derna, city officials said. Complicating the rescue effort in Libya is its division between an internationally recognized government based in Tripoli and a separately administered region in the east.
Here’s what we know about the flooding in Libya.
A powerful storm moved through the Mediterranean Sea last week, swamping Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria before making its way to Libya, where it battered the coast over the weekend. Heavy rain hit the eastern part of the country, dousing Shahhat, Al-Bayda, Marj and other settlements and displacing more than 20,000 people. In Derna, a city of about 100,000 people, the rain overwhelmed two dams to the south, and the resulting flooding destroyed buildings, sank vehicles and left bodies strewn in the streets.
Libyans have posted in Facebook groups, begging for information about their missing loved ones.
Officials said on Tuesday that a third dam, located between Derna and Benghazi, another coastal city, was also on the brink of collapse.
“The situation is catastrophic,” the Derna City Council said in a Facebook post. “The city of Derna is pleading for help.”
Did Libya try to prepare for the storm?
Political chaos has made it hard for Libya to maintain its infrastructure. The country is governed by a western administration based in Tripoli and an authority based in the east that oversees Derna, among other cities. Dozens of armed groups are also influential.
Most of the population of Libya lives in coastal areas, and the country is especially vulnerable to climate change and severe storms. Yet even after the storm killed more than a dozen people last week when it swept through Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, Libyan authorities seemed to have no serious plan to monitor the dams, warn residents or evacuate them, said Anas El Gomati, the director of a Libyan policy research center.
Who is coordinating the aid response?
The different authorities in Libya seem to be working together to some extent on the search and rescue efforts. Medical teams, including workers sent by Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the government in Tripoli, arrived in Benghazi on Tuesday, and other aid groups said they were planning to expand their services in Libya. Tripoli also has sent supplies, including body bags and medical equipment, to Benghazi, which is more than 180 miles from Derna.
But it is not clear if supplies have reached the most affected areas.
Roads into Derna have been cut off by the flooding. The Derna City Council called for the opening of a maritime passageway to the city and for urgent international intervention.
President Biden said on Tuesday that the United States would send emergency funds to relief organizations and that it would coordinate with Libyan authorities and the United Nations to provide support. President Emmanuel Macron of France also announced financial and other aid for organizations working in Libya.