Why Libya's Floods Were So Devastating Than Many Think

September 21, 2023

Storm Daniel, which hit eastern Libya on September 10, killed at least 7,300 people and left around 11,000 missing and 10,000 others homeless, in a city with an estimated population of around 200,000


early 8% of the population of the Libyan city of Derna was killed or went missing after devastating floods hit the city on September 10, 2023, in the biggest natural disaster in the country’s modern history. A third of the city’s buildings were wiped out and swept away by the Mediterranean Sea, while hundreds of bodies are believed to be trapped in structures and buildings under water.

The disaster followed a warning issued last year by professor of civil engineering Abdelwanees Ashoor. “In the event of a major flood, the consequences will be catastrophic for the inhabitants of the valley and the city,” the Libyan academic wrote. Ashoor was not taken seriously by the authorities, resulting in one of the greatest flood tragedies in modern history in a country torn by conflict and war.

The floods have affected 200,000 Libyans, and the entire area of the old city of Derna was swallowed by water after the two dams surrounding the city exploded at 3:00 a.m. local time, giving people little time to flee. In fact, the local authorities had sent out a text message the day before warning people not to leave their homes because of the heavy rains caused by Storm Daniel, which hit the region from Greece.

Thousands dead and missing

Bad weather conditions made it impossible to use helicopters due to the strong winds at the time of the storm, in addition to the extremely difficult natural terrain of the area, which prevented the arrival of rescue equipment, teams, and vehicles.

Storm Daniel, which hit eastern Libya on September 10, killed at least 7,300 people and left around 11,000 homeless in a city with an estimated population of around 200,000. According to preliminary official figures, more than 36,000 people have been displaced.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the death toll from the floods in Derna had risen to 11,300, while 10,100 people were still missing. The UN warned that an epidemic could break out in the city due to decomposing bodies and water pollution. Some 150 people have arrived to hospitals due to poison after drinking from the polluted water of Derna.

The UN confirmed that 170 people had died in floods elsewhere in eastern Libya, and that the number of displaced people in northeastern Libya had reached approximately 40,000.

Warning against drinking unclear water

At the same time, the UN envoy to Libya, Abdullah Batili, said he had seen the destruction and devastation in Derna and left with a heavy heart. He noted that the disaster was beyond Libya’s capacity and went beyond politics and border issues.

Georgette Gagnon, assistant secretary-general, resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator for Libya, confirmed that the UN is working with partners and local authorities to continue to deliver and coordinate much-needed humanitarian assistance to those in need.

The neglect of the city, which was previously a stronghold of armed groups opposed to Gaddafi and then Haftar’s forces, and the failure to maintain its dams and facilities and renovate its old buildings, in addition to the battles and wars it witnessed between 2015 and 2018, are among the factors that caused the death toll of Storm Daniel to rise dramatically.

Meanwhile, Libyans are still waiting for international aid to help them overcome one of the most tragic events in the country’s modern history. The city of Derna has experienced unprecedented destruction with residents being killed by both flooding and collapsed buildings. As time passes, the chances of finding survivors in Derna fades away.

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