‘Someone should pay’: Fury on streets of smashed Libyan city – as UN warns of cholera risk


A potential cholera outbreak could add to misery in the Libyan city of Derna, where the sheer number of people dead or unaccounted for after a massive flood is overwhelming survivors.

The number of fatalities has soared to 11,300, according to the Libyan Red Crescent, with a further 10,100 reported missing as hopes of finding survivors diminish.

Two Sky News TV crews witnessed horrific scenes after reaching the eastern port city – including the tragic discovery of the body of a young girl, perhaps aged 10 or 11.

Desperate search for survivors continues – latest updates

People look for survivors in Derna, Libya. Pic: AP
Desperate relatives search for survivors. Pic: AP

The Libyan city of Derna
A general view of the city of Derna is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 12., 2023. Mediterranean storm Daniel caused devastating floods in Libya that broke dams and swept away entire neighborhoods in multiple coastal towns, the destruction appeared greatest in Derna city. (AP Photo/Jamal Alkomaty)
An aerial view of the Libyan city of Derna. Pic: AP

The United Nations (UN) has warned the country urgently needs equipment to find those trapped in sludge and wrecked buildings – and raised concerns of a cholera outbreak.

“Priority areas are shelter, food, key primary medical care because of the worry of cholera, the worry of lack of clean water,” said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

Reports suggest almost a quarter of the city has been washed away and reduced to an apocalyptic wasteland, following a massive flood fed by the breaching of two dams in heavy rains.

More than 38,640 people are displaced in the northeast of the country, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Libya said on Friday.

‘Graveyard’ city smashed by water from ‘dam of death’

Sky’s Africa correspondent Yousra Elbagir, reporting from one of the collapsed dams, said it is now known as “the dam of death“.

Although it has been days since the disaster struck, she said survivors are still in a complete state of shock – with some coming to the site to look at the catastrophe.

“The flood has completely changed their lives,” she said. “One person told me: ‘This is not a natural disaster, this is a catastrophe.'”

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Derna’s ‘dam of death’

Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford, reporting from the centre of Derna, said the city was like “one big graveyard”.

“Everywhere you look here – it’s 360° destruction,” she said. “There is a strong smell in the air of corpses.”

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How the floods cut a swathe through city

“The force of the water was so strong from the two dams which collapsed that the locals say it sounded like an explosion, after explosion, after explosion,” said Crawford.

“Massive tonnes of rocks, whole apartment blocks, were just swept away.

“There are three bridges that have been swept away.

“Building after building has been levelled or smashed through.

“They had – according to those who survived – about 20 minutes to get out of the way of this torrent of water.”

Read more:
Before and after pictures show devastation of Libya floods
What caused sheer scale of destruction in flooded Libyan city?

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‘Utter devastation’ after torrent’s destruction

‘Someone should pay for these deaths’ after girl’s body found

There was a collective intake of horror when the “unmistakable shape of a small human” was discovered, Crawford added.

It was the body of a young girl – maybe aged 10 or 11.

Witnesses were stunned into silence, she said, describing it as “utterly dreadful”.

Two relief workers raced down with a black body bag and the girl was hurriedly placed inside it.

Damaged areas and buildings, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya
Entire neighbourhoods have been washed away

The scene at one of the dams that collapsed in heavy rains and sent a massive flood gushing into the eastern Libyan port city
The scene at one of the dams that collapsed in heavy rains

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Drone footage shows flood-hit Libya

People searching for relatives say they had plenty of warning about Storm Daniel before it hit.

But what followed was a catastrophic culmination of human errors.

Gandi Mohammed Hammoud, a structural engineer, said it was down to negligence.

He said there had been plenty of warnings from experts about the poor state of the city’s two dams.

“They should have known,” he told Sky News.

Sky News will air a special programme – Libya floods: The city swept away – at midday on Saturday.

Damage from massive flooding is seen in Derna, Libya 
Search teams are combing streets, wrecked buildings, and even the sea to look for bodies. Pic: AP

Derna, Libya
Hopes of finding survivors are fading

Mr Hammoud said he watched as his neighbours and friends screamed in terror as the torrent of water tore apart their homes and flats.

He added: “Someone should pay for these deaths.

“Someone should be held accountable for what happened here.”

Officials have warned unexploded ordnances – remnants of war such as unexploded bombs, mines, shells and grenades – pose a risk for those involved in recovering the dead.

The aftermath of the floods

The aftermath of the floods
Derna has been the worst-affected

Derna, Libya
Rescuers have been sifting through the wreckage

‘Bodies are littering the streets’

Most of the dead have been buried in mass graves outside Derna, while others are being transferred to nearby towns and cities.

“Bodies are littering the streets, washing back on shore and are buried under collapsed buildings and debris. In just two hours, one of my colleagues counted over 200 bodies on the beach near Derna,” said Bilal Sablouh, regional forensics manager for Africa for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ICRC has sent a cargo flight to Benghazi with 5,000 body bags.

Rescue and relief operations have also been complicated by political divides in the country, which has been at war since a 2011 uprising toppled long-ruling dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Despite a 2020 ceasefire ending most major warfare, territory remains controlled by rival armed factions.

An internationally recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) is based in Tripoli, in the west, while a parallel administration operates in the east, including Derna.

“The instability, poor governance, corruption and mafia-style politicking, including a network of people-smuggling gangs, have all conspired to make this tragedy,” Crawford added.

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