Rescue teams trawl through debris as they search for bodies in Libya

The darkest of tasks: Rescue teams trawl through debris and wreckage washed up on the beach as they search for bodies of those killed by Libya’s catastrophic flood

  • The port city on Libya’s coast was devastated by floods caused by heavy rain
  • Some 4,000 have been reported dead and 10,000 could still be missing

Ten days after a tsunami-scale flash flood ripped through the Libyan coastal city of Derna, rescue groups have been pictured still trawling through debris in search of bodies of those buried under the rubble.

Turkey’s State Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) was yesterday joined by an international brigade of rescue groups making a desperate bid to scour the city’s beaches in search of life – and to recover the dead.

Hundreds of bodies have washed back onto the shore since the Storm Daniel brought the devastating torrent which swept through the port city in eastern Libya on September 10.

Aid groups now estimate some 10,000 people may be missing as a result of the flood. The World Health Organization stated yesterday that 4,000 deaths had so far been reported in hospitals.

Many traumatised survivors are still waiting to learn the fate of missing relatives. Few of them have any hope of seeing their loved ones alive.

An aerial view shows destroyed buildings and houses in the aftermath of a deadly storm and flooding that hit Libya, in Derna, Libya September 20, 2023

Turkish rescue teams were seen digging through rubble to retrieve bodies on September 19

Turkey’s State Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), with teams from Russia, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Algeria and UAE search for bodies in Derna on September 19

Storm Daniel brought more than 400mm of rain to parts of Libya’s north-east coast within a 24-hour period – more than 250 times would usually expect throughout the entire month of September. 

The rains caused the collapse of the two dams that spanned the narrow valley that divides the city. 

READ MORE: Grieving Libyan father mourns his son’s death as body is recovered from rubble after Derna flood in heartbreaking video – as death toll from the city alone hits 5,100 

That sent a wall of water several meters high through its heart. 

Entire families have vanished in the days since, said Derna resident Mohamad Badr as he was clearing his house of mud and trying to salvage what furniture and household items he could.

‘The Bouzid family, the Fachiani family, the Khalidi family, these are entire families,’ the 23-year-old man told AFP, his hands and clothes stained with mud.

‘There is no one left.’

On the flat roof of his house, he and five other workers have placed sofas, cushions, curtains, clothes, an exercise treadmill and electrical equipment.

‘God knows if they still work,’ Badr said.

Emotion overtook him when he recounted how he survived the flood night that brought him ‘more than one nightmare’.

‘I heard a lot of screaming,’ he said. ‘It was neighbours who screamed until they died.’

‘It was dark and there was no one’ to help them, he said.

Badr was able to cling onto a floating couch for a few hours, until the waters gradually receded.

‘My brother died after bleeding for hours from an arm injury,’ said Badr.

His parents, three children and sister-in-law survived, but he has had no news of his uncles and their families.

Thirty-two of his relatives are missing after their building was reduced to rubble that remains inaccessible.

‘Maybe their bodies were found and no one was able to identify them,’ said Badr.

Turkiye’s State Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) conducts search and rescue operations after the flood caused by Storm Daniel in Derna, Libya, on September 19

A global effort of rescue teams has come together to help search for bodies and rescue survivors. Pictured: AFAD members in Derna on September 19, 2023

 An aerial view of the AFAD’s base of operations as Turkish rescuers continue searches in Derna, Libya, on September 19, 2023

Derna, three days after a powerful storm and heavy rainfall devastated the port city

The floods also inundated one of the country’s premier ancient sites, threatening its UNESCO-listed monuments with collapse, a recent visitor and a leading archaeologist said.

The immediate damage to the monuments of Cyrene, which include the second century AD Temple of Zeus, is relatively minor but the water circulating around their foundations threatens future collapses, the head of the French archaeological mission in Libya, Vincent Michel, told AFP.

Settled from the Greek island of Santorini around 600 BC, Cyrene was one of the leading centres of the Classical world for nearly a millennium before being largely abandoned following a major earthquake in 365 AD.

Its name lives on in Cyrenaica, the historical name for eastern Libya.

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