Libya buries thousands in mass graves
TRIPOLI. – The Libyan city of Derna has buried thousands of people in mass graves, officials said yesterday, as search teams scoured ruins left by devastating floods and the city’s mayor said the death toll could triple.
The deluge swept away entire families on Sunday night and exposed vulnerabilities in the oil-rich country that has been mired in conflict since a 2011 uprising that toppled long-ruling dictator Muammar Gadhafi. Health officials have confirmed 5 500 deaths and say 9 000 people are still missing.
Daniel, an unusually strong Mediterranean storm, caused deadly flooding in towns across eastern Libya, but the worst-hit was Derna. As the storm pounded the coast Sunday night, residents said they heard loud explosions when two dams outside the city collapsed. Floodwaters washed down Wadi Derna, a valley that cuts through the city, crashing through buildings and washing people out to sea.
A U.N. official said Thursday that most casualties could have been avoided.
“If there would have been a normal operating meteorological service, they could have issued the warnings,” World Meteorological Organization head Petteri Taalas told reporters in Geneva. “The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out the evacuation.”
The WMO said earlier this week that the National Meteorological Center had issued warnings 72 hours before the flooding, notifying all governmental authorities by email and through media.
Officials in eastern Libya warned the public about the coming storm but did not suggest the dams could collapse or present an evacuation plan.
The startling devastation reflected the storm’s intensity, but also Libya’s vulnerability. Oil-rich Libya has been divided between rival governments for most of the past decade — one in the east, the other in the capital, Tripoli — and one result has been widespread neglect of infrastructure.
The two dams that collapsed outside Derna were built in the 1970s. A report by a state-run audit agency in 2021 said the dams had not been maintained despite the allocation of more than 2 million euros for that purpose in 2012 and 2013.
Libya’s Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah acknowledged the maintenance issues in a Cabinet meeting yesterday and called on the Public Prosecutor to open an urgent investigation into the dams’ collapse. – Agencies