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A visual investigation into why thousands died in Libya flooding

Online and satellite images show the extent of the damage in the city of Derna, with entire city blocks disappearing overnight.
A visual investigation into why thousands died in Libya flooding
Posted at 7:36 PM, Sep 14, 2023

Thousands are dead from the massive flooding in Libya caused by Mediterranean storm Daniel. Even more are missing. How is it possible for one storm to claim so many lives?   

The city of Derna, on the coast in northeastern Libya, has suffered some of the worst destruction. Online and satellite images show the extent of the damage in the city, with entire city blocks disappearing overnight. 

Sept. 13 satellite imagery, provided by Planet Labs, is one of the clearest ways to see just how much of the city was destroyed. 

In the before and after imagery, you can see just how much of Derna’s buildings were simply washed away by the massive flooding. 

Zooming in on one part of the imagery, you're able to see how one building — the 7-story tall Beach Tower — was sheared in half by the floodwaters.

A video from the ground shared on X shows how much of the tower and surrounding buildings were destroyed.  

SEE MORE: Here's how you can help the flood victims in Libya

The massive floodwaters that swept through the city are believed to have been the result of two dams upstream from Derna collapsing after heavy rain from the Mediterranean storm. 

The dams appear to have broken in the middle of the night. Residents likely had little time, if any, to react. 

In one video shared online, you can see the collapsed dam the morning after the flooding devastated the city.  

"The two dams, the two dams of the city — they were supposed to be repaired two years ago. There was some water in the two dams but no one said nothing about it. No one did nothing about it," said Mubarak El-Giathi, a Libyan flood survivor.

Search and rescue efforts are ongoing, with members of the Libyan National Army using bulldozers, helicopters and diggers to attempt to clear out the mud that is covering much of Derna’s streets.  

The efforts are complicated by the fact that Libya is technically under two administrations, split between the UN-backed government in the west and the military government in the east, where Derna is.  

Despite past hostilities, there’s been solidarity between the two sides on ensuring aid reaches those who need it most in the flood-ravaged parts of Eastern Libya.  

Countries like the United States, France, Germany, Turkey and Italy are now sending aid and assistance.  

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