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Libya floods: 'Everything swept away in the blink of an eye'

September 14, 2023 at 8:02 pm

A view of devastation in disaster zones after the floods caused by the Storm Daniel ravaged the region in Derna, Libya on September 12, 2023. [Abdullah Mohammed Bonja – Anadolu Agency]

“We heard a big explosion, then water was everywhere, sweeping everything in the blink of an eye,” survivors from the Libyan city of Derna recounted the disaster caused by the Mediterranean Storm Daniel, which struck the east of the country at dawn last Sunday.

At least 6,000 people have been killed and thousands of others remain missing due to the weekend floods in eastern Libya, according to officials.

Torrential rains swept several regions, most notably the cities of Derna, Benghazi, Al-Bayda, Al-Marj and Soussa.

“Everything happened in the blink of an eye,” Farhat Boudhahab, a survivor, told Anadolu, describing the flood disaster.

The height of the buildings, the strength of their foundations, and their location in the valley areas of the city were the factors that determined our chances of survival

Boudhahab said.

“Citizens residing in strongly founded high buildings were able to survive,” Boudhahab stated.

Death toll from devastating floods in Libya tops 6,000 [Yasin Demirci - Anadolu Agency]

Death toll from devastating floods in Libya tops 6,000 [Yasin Demirci – Anadolu Agency]

READ: ‘Forgive me, dad’: Last words of Libya teen killed in deadly Derna floods

He explained that “residents had to climb to the top of their residential buildings until the torrential waters receded.”

“Residents of buildings located in high areas in Derna also survived,” he added.

“I reside in a two-floor house in a relatively low-lying area,” Boudhahab said, noting that “most of the houses in my neighbourhood are one-floor houses.”

“The flood waters were higher than that,” he added.

‘I was shocked to see bodies of my neighbours’

“I believe I survived by the grace of God and my mastery of architecture,” Boudhahab told Anadolu.

“I woke up to the sound of a huge explosion and knew immediately that the Derna Dam had exploded because the rain was heavy and we’ve heard similar stories regarding that dam,” Boudhahab stated.

“Moments later, water was flooding my house, where I have been staying alone for weeks,” he added.

Boudhahab said: “My children are with their mother who moved to live with her family in the city of Sirte.”

“They would have been dead otherwise,” he added.

After my house was flooded with water, I climbed to the roof and hid inside a concrete water tank that I had built myself years ago to collect sweet rainwater

Boudhahab said.

Boudhahab sat in his water tank after he locked it tightly until the water receded in the morning.

“I was shocked to see the bodies of my neighbours and the destruction that occurred in the place,” he said, noting: “I had very mixed feelings; I was happy about my survival but deeply saddened by the death and destruction around me.”

READ: Libya seeks blame for thousands of flood deaths

Unexpected disaster    

Libya’s eastern city of Derna was the hardest hit by devastating floods caused by Storm Daniel, leaving thousands of people dead.

Adding to the tragedy in Derna was the collapse of two dams, dragging large parts of the coastal city into the sea.

Adel Al-Shafi’i, another survivor in Derna, said: “We did not expect this amount of destruction.”

“All indicators said that the city of Benghazi would be hardest hit by the storm,” he added.

Warnings were limited to Benghazi, where rescue teams were formed, a state of emergency was declared, and a curfew was imposed in the city

Al-Shafi’i explained.

“Therefore, we did not care much in Derna,” he said and added: “Not only that, but I called my brother who lives in Benghazi at 12 o’clock at night and asked him to come to Derna since it is safer. But he couldn’t make it due to the curse.”

“However, things took a strange turn as Benghazi was safer because the storm bypassed it to move to the rest of the cities in the East,” Al-Shafi’i said.

‘A disaster never seen before’

Al-Shafi’i recounted the details of the first moments of what happened in Derna, saying:

The first dam exploded, then the second, and the Derna Valley was flooded with a force we have never seen before, sweeping away everything in its path. In just a few moments, the water swallowed entire 6-storey residential buildings

“Fortunately, for my family and me, we live in a high area that was less affected by the flood waters,” Al-Shafi’i told Anadolu.

Al-Shafi’i, who did not leave Derna, said that the situation in the city three days after the floods “is still catastrophic.”

“The security forces evacuated the city because the crowd was hindering rescue operations and the recovery of bodies that were still being found, especially in the sea, where entire buildings were swept away with all their inhabitants,” Al-Shafi’i said.

Watch: ‘Don’t just watch TV’, Libyan teacher rallies pupils to help flood victims