Local and Humor Editors
On Sept. 10, torrential rains from tropical storm Daniel overwhelmed dams near the coastal city of Derna, Libya, causing catastrophic damage and a heavy death toll. Before arriving in Libya, the storm doused Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria, taking over a dozen lives prior to making its way across the Mediterranean. Derna and surrounding areas received an astonishing 15 inches of rain in a single day.
The storm hit Derna especially hard, resulting in two broken dams and causing unimaginable damage and losses. The influx of rain overloaded the Wadi Darna dams and caused waves up to 23 feet high to rush into the city, pushing buildings, cars, and entire neighborhoods out into the ocean. Over 10,000 people are missing, and over 11,300 are pronounced dead. Local authorities declared that it will take weeks to determine the accurate number of casualties as search and rescue personnel are having difficulty accessing the city and traveling through the mud.
The dams broke in the night, taking unsuspecting residents by surprise and likely contributing to the already massive death toll. Ahmed Abdalla, a survivor who joined the search and rescue effort, said, “The situation is indescribable. Entire families [are] dead in this disaster. Some were washed away to the sea.”
The combination of location, climate, and inadequate facilities in Derna exemplifies how poor infrastructure and increasingly intense storms can quickly result in a regional disaster. Dry regions like Libya usually tend to stay dry for quite some time, withdrawing moisture from the ground and leaving a hard shell. When the rain does come, the ground isn’t able to absorb it all, causing flash flooding.
Climate change is adding to the difficulties seen in Derna. “We are unambiguously in circumstances where rainfall is happening more intensely,” Dr. Katharine Mach announced in an interview with the New York Times. Derna’s dams are also formed with past climates in mind, not accounting for what climate change may bring. Derna is located on an alluvial fan, a landscape that is made at the bottom of a mountain from loose sediment. This particular type of landscape is known to be at high risk for flooding. When floods do occur in these areas, the water takes lots of sediment and dust with it, causing heavy destruction. United States President Joe Biden declared that the US would send money to relief organizations and coordinate with Libyan authorities along with the United Nations to provide additional support.
This sudden devastation brought attention to the severity of the storms but also highlighted Libya’s political vulnerabilities. The country is divided into rival governments, one in the east and one in the west, and the result has been neglected infrastructure in many areas.
(Sources: AP News, NBC, The New York Times)