The Libyan city of Derna is located on the Mediterranean Sea. About 100,000 live here.
The river that descended towards the city had two dams.
Recent satellite images show that the dams were destroyed by the masses of water that came with Storm Daniel.
It led to massive destruction in Derna. Now no one knows how many people are left.
A hot summer, two broken dams, and a protracted conflict may have worsened the disaster in Libya.
The short version
- Two dams exploded in Libya after heavy rains. The authorities fear that the third dam may collapse.
- The city of Derna suffered a severe blow. The death toll after the accident is unclear, but it may reach more than 20,000 people. At least 10,000 people are missing. Rescue work continues.
- Factors that may have influenced the outcome of the disaster were climate change that increased the severity of the storm, drying of the soil, lack of levee maintenance, and the fact that many of the buildings were located near the river.
The summary is created with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and quality guaranteed by Aftenposten journalists.
Heavy rains caused the collapse of two dams in eastern Libya. Thus, huge amounts of water hit the city of Derna and the city’s 100,000 residents.
The authorities in the city of Tokra, west of Derna, fear the possibility of a new dam collapsing and causing massive destruction.
The state-run Libyan News Agency reported that authorities in Tocra asked residents near the dam to get to safety. NBC News.
More than two days after the disaster, the death toll remains staggering: The Minister of Aviation in the government of eastern Libya, Hisham Abu Shekiwat, said on Wednesday that 5,300 had been found dead. Shortly before that, Health Minister Othman Abdel Jalil in the same government said that more than 2,000 people had been confirmed dead.
The number is expected to rise in any case, and according to Shekiwat, the final death toll may be high. He says new bodies are constantly being discovered in the sea outside Derna.
The mayor of Derna told Al Arabiya on Wednesday evening that the death toll would reach 20,000.
At least 10,000 people are missing, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The intensive search for the missing continues.
How could so many people lose their lives due to heavy rains in Libya, a country that we usually consider to be a desert country?
Here are the main reasons:
1. The storm struck Daniel again
The disaster occurred after Storm Daniel hit Libya on Sunday. Over the course of a single day, several cities received rainfall ranging from 150 to 240 mm.
The worst was in the city of Al Bayda, where the average rainfall reached 414.1 mm within 24 hours, according to the websites of the World Meteorological Organization.
5-6 days ago, Daniel had spread death and destruction to Greece and neighboring countries. The weather station reported 750 mm of rain in one day. This corresponds to the amount of rain that typically falls in 18 months.
It can be difficult to imagine how much rain will fall. To illustrate, we can imagine that the precipitation came in the form of snow. Hence, 7.5 meters of snow could have fallen in one day.
It was known in advance that Daniel would attack Libya. 72 hours earlier, the National Weather Service had declared severe weather. A state of emergency was declared in eastern Libya.
One question is whether everyone received this notification. The World Meteorological Organization says the disaster shows how important it is for everyone to have early warning. In cooperation with many partners, the United Nations launched the “Early Warning for All” campaign. The purpose is to ensure that early warning reaches everyone and leads to preventive measures.
Another question is whether early warning helped at all. The devastation in Derna is so massive that it is difficult to see how to prepare for it.
2. Climate change may have intensified the storm
Storm Daniel became so dangerous because it gained strength from very high temperatures in the Mediterranean Sea. Climate scientist David Faranda explains this to the French newspaper Le Monde. He specializes in extreme weather events and their connection to climate change.
The air masses became very humid due to evaporation from the Mediterranean Sea. In the same way that warm ocean waters often cause hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea powered Danielle.
The average temperature at sea this summer was 28 degrees Celsius. The temperature is two to three degrees higher than normal, Carsten Hosten tells the Associated Press. He is a climate researcher and meteorologist at the University of Leipzig in Germany, and points out that Daniel has not yet been closely studied.
He says the weather patterns that created Daniel would have formed even without climate change. But he believes the consequences may not have been so serious.
– In a colder world, Daniel would not have evolved as quickly as it did, says Haustein. – He would not have struck Libya with such severe force.
3. Dry soil may have contributed to the flood
Heavy rain fell on desert soil that had become drier due to months of extreme heat.
As the end of the season approaches, the waterways also fill with natural or human waste preventing the water from flowing properly. It could contribute to the river overflowing its banks.
– We have already seen this in Sicily, Faranda tells Le Monde.
4. Two dam explosions
Rainfall amounts reached record levels, and two ancient dams collapsed south of Derna, and are therefore located inland.
Deputy Mayor Ahmed Madroud told Al Jazeera that the dams had not been maintained since 2002 and were not very large.
The fact that it was not preserved may have something to do with the political circumstances in Libya. The country has been in chaos since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
A satellite image taken on July 1 of this year shows the upper part of the two dams in Derna.
Now the same dam looks like this.
The lower dam looked like this on July 1 of this year.
Now the dam has been destroyed, as a satellite image on Wednesday, September 13, shows.
There are two governments in Libya, one in the west and the other in the east.
Bursting dams are supposed to increase the devastation. The tidal wave that struck the city is described as a tsunami. Flood waves reached seven metres, according to Jan Fredes of the International Red Committee.
According to the New York Times, the tsunami swept entire neighborhoods into the sea.
The newspaper wrote that political division, economic instability, corruption, environmental degradation, and dilapidated infrastructure may have contributed to the worsening disaster when dams collapsed south of the city.
5. Many buildings are located near the river
At least 20 percent of the city of Derna has been destroyed, according to the deputy mayor of Derna.
It is reported that many of the less solid buildings stood close together in narrow streets very close to where the water flowed.
– When the river overflowed its banks, it took all the buildings with it, while the families were inside them, Ahmed Madroud told Al Jazeera.
It may be difficult to determine how many people were killed, as it is assumed that many of the dead may have been washed out to sea.
The difficult reconstruction process may be enhanced by the fact that Derna has long been a low priority city. Although the city had a population of 100,000 people, the city did not have a proper hospital, Al Jazeera wrote.
For a period from 2014 to 2015, the city was under the control of the so-called Islamic State. After ISIS, a period of war between militias followed.
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