Residents of the devastated Libyan city of Derna searched for their missing relatives on Wednesday, as rescue workers called for more body bags after catastrophic floods claimed the lives of thousands and swept many into the sea.
The floods caused by Storm Daniel obliterated vast areas of the city overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and overwhelmed the usual dry riverbed. This resulted in the collapse of dams and multi-story buildings that housed sleeping families.
Officials estimate the number of missing persons to be around ten thousand, while the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that the number is no less than five thousand.
Oussama Al-Husadi (52), a driver, has been searching for his wife and five children since the disaster struck. With tears in his eyes, he told Reuters, “I walked on foot to look for them… I went to all the hospitals and schools, but luck was not on my side.”
Al-Husadi, who was working the night of the storm, called his wife’s phone number again, and it was still turned off. He added, “At least 50 members of my extended family are either missing or dead.”
Children’s clothes, toys, furniture, shoes, and other belongings were scattered on the beach due to the floods.
Mud covered the streets, where uprooted trees and hundreds of wrecked cars, many of which had overturned or ended up on their roofs, blocked the way. A car was wedged on the second-floor balcony of a collapsed building.
Engineer Mohamed Mohsen Boujemila (41) said, “I survived with my wife, but I lost my sister. My sister lives in the city center, where most of the destruction occurred. We found the bodies of her husband and son, and we buried them.”
The bodies of two strangers were also found in his apartment.
As he spoke, an Egyptian search and rescue team nearby pulled the body of his neighbor from the water. Boujemila said, “She is Aunt Khadija, may God have mercy on her.”
The extent of the destruction is evident from the high areas above Derna, where the city center, densely populated and built along the course of a seasonal crescent-shaped river, is submerged in murky water glistening under the sun after the buildings were swept away.
The number of casualties announced by officials so far has varied, but all are in the thousands.
Hisham Abu Shakwat, the Minister of Civil Aviation in the Eastern Libyan government, said, “The sea is constantly throwing dozens of bodies.”
He added, “So far, we have counted more than 5,300 dead, and the number is likely to increase significantly, and perhaps double, as the number of missing persons also reaches thousands.”
Abu Shakwat continued, saying, “Tens of thousands of people have become homeless. We need international assistance; Libya does not have the necessary experience to deal with such disasters.”
Search and Rescue Operations
Al-Ghaithi mentioned that rescue teams arrived from Egypt, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Qatar.
He said, “We really need specialized teams to recover bodies. I fear that an epidemic will spread in the city due to the large number of bodies under the rubble and in the water.”
The United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated that at least 30,000 people have been displaced in Derna.