Libya's deadly floods: what we know

Destroyed vehicles and damaged buildings in the eastern city of Benghazi in the wake of the Mediterranean storm "Daniel". 

Photo credit: The Press Office of Libyan Prime Minister / AFP

At least 2,300 people were killed in Libya after catastrophic flash flooding caused by Storm Daniel tore through the eastern coastal city of Derna, devastating whole neighbourhoods.

This is what we know so far about the unprecedented disaster to hit the North African country.

What exactly happened?

On Sunday afternoon, Storm Daniel made landfall on Libya's east coast after earlier lashing Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. It touched Benghazi before veering towards the Jabal al-Akhdar district towns of Shahat, Al-Marj, Al-Bayda, Soussa and Derna, devastating that city. 

Derna, a city of 100,000 people, lies in a river wadi 900 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli. Overnight, two dams on Wadi Derna burst, unleashing torrents of water that destroyed bridges and swept away entire neighbourhoods on both sides of the wadi, before spilling into the Mediterranean.

Roads that were already in a poor state were cut, and access to the affected areas became impossible.

Why so many dead in Derna?

Figures provided by the emergency services of the internationally recognised government in Tripoli say Storm Daniel killed more than 2,300 people in Derna alone, devastated the city and cutting it off from the outside world.

However, authorities in the east of the country fear that the death toll will be much higher, with some officials speaking of more than 10,000 fatalities. 

A boy pulls a suitcase past debris in a flash-flood damaged area in Derna, eastern Libya, on September 11, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

Derna's infrastructure is dilapidated, with buildings put up over the past decade that flout basic planning regulations. The city also suffered from a lack of preparation for such a hard to anticipate disaster that has transformed it into a vast cemetery.

Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed revolution that overthrew 42 years of dictatorial rule by Moamer Kadhafi and also killed him.

Myriad militias exploited this chaos and divisions between east and west. They included the radical Islamist Ansar al-Sharia which based itself in Derna and also jihadists of the Islamic State group who were chased out in 2018 by the forces loyal to eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The authorities mobilise

The authorities in both east and west, faced by the appalling human and material devastation caused by the floods, began to mobilise, taking emergency measures to come to the aid of those stricken by the disaster.

Aid convoys from Tripolitania in the west set off for Derna. The internationally recognised Tripoli government of Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah said it was sending two air ambulances and a helicopter, 87 doctors, a team of rescuers and canine search teams, as well as National Electricity Company to try to restore power.

The international response

After sending condolences and messages of support many countries also pledged to aid local rescuers overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, with residents recording footage of apocalyptic scenes. The United States, Italy, France, the United Nations, Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia have all said they are ready to help.

Rescue teams sent by Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have already arrived in eastern Libya, the authorities said.

Egypt's armed forces chief of staff, a political and military ally of Haftar, flew to Benghazi on Tuesday aboard a plane loaded with relief supplies and personnel, media reports said, adding he said Cairo was willing to set up an air bridge in the wake of the disaster.