Libya – 5,300 Lives Lost in Derna Floods, Thousands Still Missing

The death toll from massive floods that swept the city of Derna in eastern Libya rose to 5,300 people, according to statistics issued by the Ministry of the Interior of the government appointed by the House of Representatives.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior, Muhammad Abu Mosha, said in a statement to the Libyan News Agency (LANA) that the number of deaths in Derna as a result of the devastating Mediterranean storm exceeded 5,300 people. There are thousands missing as a result of the disaster, he added.

Before the floods in Derna Libya. Credit: Planet Labs PBC
After the floods in Derna Libya. Credit: Planet Labs PBC

Search and Rescue

Abu Mosha confirmed that local rescue teams are continuing to search for missing persons and rescue those stranded and affected, calling for international intervention to assist in rescue efforts and protect those affected by the unprecedented floods.

Specialized rescue teams from Türkiye, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt among others were working to assist victims and recover the bodies that had been swept into the sea. Local media report that bodies of the flood victims swept away in Derna have started to wash up on shores as up to 65 km east of Derna.

The Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations in Libya, Georgette Gagnon, announced that she had assigned the Emergency Response Team to prepare to support the Libyan government in eastern Libya.

Gagnon said “The immense destruction unleashed by Storm Daniel in eastern Libya is truly heartbreaking – so many lives lost and people missing. The UN is working to address urgent needs on the ground including provision of life-saving support such as food, water, medical supplies and shelter. We are coordinating with national and local authorities and humanitarian partners for swift and coordinated action to support the affected communities.”

Dam Failures

The flooding across eastern Libya was triggered by extremely heavy rainfall of around 400 mm brought by Storm Daniel on 10 September. Rivers and streams quickly filled, in particular in the Wadi Darnah river basin that runs through the city of Derna to the Mediterranean Sea.

According to a report of 12 September by REACH, an initiative providing data and in-depth analysis for humanitarian disasters, two dams in the Wadi Dernah basin reportedly failed: the Al-Wadi Derna dam upstream, and the Derna Dam closer to the outskirts of the city.

Map of the locations of the failed dams near Derna, Libya. Image: REACH

The Libyan News Agency (LANA) said a recent study had warned of a disaster in the Wadi Derna Basin areas due to the potential collapse of dams in the region.

“A scientific study published by the Sebha University Journal of Research and Applied Sciences in 2022 warned of a disaster if a flood occurred to residents of areas near the Wadi Derna basin due to the collapse of the existing dams in the region,” LANA said.

According to LANA, the study, entitled Estimating the Depth of Surface Runoff in the Wadi Derna Basin by integrating GIS techniques and the SCS-CN model, called for finding a way to increase the vegetation cover to reduce the phenomenon of desertification, and to properly maintain the dams.

“The study said that the situation in the Wadi Derna basin as of 2022 required officials to take immediate measures by conducting periodic maintenance of the existing dams, because in the event of a huge flood, the result will be disastrous for the residents of the valley and the city,” LANA added.

Before the dam collapse near Derna, Libya. Credit: Planet Labs PBC
After the dam collapse in Derna, Libya, September 2023. Credit: Planet Labs PBC

Storm Daniel and Early Warnings

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that, as it moved towards Libya, “Storm Daniel developed the characteristics of a Medicane – MEDIterranean hurriCANE. This hybrid phenomenon shows some characteristics of a tropical cyclone and others of a mid-latitude storm. Activity historically peaks between September and January.”

The WMO added that local agencies had issued timely warnings for the storm.

“The National Meteorological Centre issued early warnings for this extreme weather event 72 hours before its occurrence, and notified all governmental authorities by e-mails and through media urging them to take more care and caution, and also urging them to take preventive measures. A State of Emergency was announced in the eastern regions based on these warnings,” the WMO said.

Storm Daniel developed in Greece and was named by the Hellenic National Meteorological Service. The storm caused record-breaking rainfall in Greece on 05 to 06 September, with a reported 750 mm falling in 24 hours at a station in the village of Zagora. This is the equivalent of about 18 months of rainfall. In Thessaly, central Greece, many stations received 400 to 600 mm of rainfall in 24 hours. Thessaly is Greece’s agricultural heartland, and so the economic impacts are expected to be serious.

Photos of the Flood Damage in Derna, Libya

Flood damage in Derna, Libya, September 2023. Photo: Libyan News Agency
Flood damage in Derna, Libya, September 2023. Photo: Libyan News Agency
Flood damage in Derna, Libya, September 2023. Photo: Libyan Red Crescent Society
Flood damage in Derna, Libya, September 2023. Photo: Libyan Red Crescent Society
Flood damage in Derna, Libya, September 2023. Photo: Libyan Red Crescent Society
Flood damage in Derna, Libya, September 2023. Photo: Libyan Red Crescent Society