Derna survivor voices hope for Libya's future amid flood chaos

Rescue mission turns to recovering bodies as fear of diseases persists

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Survivors of the flash flooding in Libya have hope that the disaster can help to unite the country, as the rescue mission turns to recovering bodies to stop the spread of potentially fatal diseases.

“Derna had to die for us to be reborn as a country and unify both east and west as one country,” Mohammed Hassan, who survived the night when Storm Daniel wreaked havoc on several cities in Libya, mostly on the coastal city of Derna.

Mr Hassan said he was awakened by the screams of people at around 3.30am local time on Monday. He woke his son sleeping nearby in their apartment, less than 100 metres from Derna's shoreline and quickly went up to the roof.

“All I could hear were people screaming. Many kept saying 'Allah Akbar' but mostly it was the screams of people on the lower floors that I still hear until today,” he told The National. “No words can describe those crucial hours when the storm was hitting us at its mightiest. We thank Allah that, by his grace, we’re still here to live another life.”

An accurate death toll has not been confirmed yet by official authorities – it is difficult to tally as teams from other countries, alongside the Libyans, are carrying out their own operations – the UAE was able to recover at least 10 bodies from Derna alone by Saturday.

“We’re trying our best, but we have to be pragmatic about the situation. We hope to find survivors, but our main mission is to help the Libyans find and recover their bodies.

Dramatic satellite images show Libya's Derna devastated by flood

Dramatic satellite images show Libya's Derna devastated by flood

“One of the concerns here is mostly to give the victims a dignified burial, but the main challenge is to help them mitigate waterborne diseases if the bodies are not recovered,” said Ramdane Mubarak, from the Algerian Rescue and Emergency team.

Teams from Spain, the UAE, Algeria, Turkey and Jordan spread out across Derna city, but hundreds of volunteers from cities in Libya have made the perilous trip to Derna and Al Bayda to help with recovery efforts. Many of them are from Tripoli city.

“By the second day, a few of us graduate students made our way to Derna after we called our friends, who said they were still in the city and had survived the storm. By the afternoon on Tuesday, when we reached Derna, the situation was catastrophic,” Mr Abdulqader, a linguistics undergraduate student and volunteer with the Libyan medical corps, told The National.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that what we saw almost felt like it was the Day of Judgment or Armageddon. Dead bodies everywhere,” he said.

Another volunteer, Hassan Humaid, also arrived from Tripoli and said Libyans were grateful for the help from their Arab brothers.

“Libyans, especially from Derna, had experienced so much for so many decades but they’re a resilient people. They survived the civil war, then ISIS, and now this. But, to be honest, I’m not sure those who survived and evacuated can come back. What will they come back to? This is a disaster never been seen before,” Mr Humaid said.

Updated: September 17, 2023, 5:18 AM