A week after the deadly floods in Libya, Derna survivors want answers: why have requests for dam repairs gone unheeded and who will help them face the risk of epidemics?

“Two years ago, there had already been leaks on the big dam when it was only half full. We had warned the municipality and demanded repairs,” Abdelqader al- told AFP Omrani from his hospital bed in Benghazi, the big eastern city.

For this 48-year-old Libyan, who saw the lifeless bodies of six relatives carried by the waves in his devastated city pass before his eyes, the thousands of deaths could have been avoided.

Those responsible who did not carry out the repairs “have our deaths on their conscience,” he said.

After a demonstration by hundreds of residents, the head of the executive in eastern Libya, Osama Hamad, dissolved the Derna municipal council on Monday, against which he also ordered the opening of an investigation.

Ezzedine Miftah, 32, also points the finger at local authorities, behind her oxygen mask in intensive care.

For this private sector employee whose family survived the floods, “it’s the fault of those in charge who didn’t do their job and let the dams collapse.”

The tidal wave that followed reduced the heart of the city of 100,000 inhabitants to a pile of mud drying in the sun, raked by rescuers to remove bodies or bulldozers to dig mass graves.

“After all these deaths at home, the country is finally united, everyone came to help us,” says Mr. Omrani, who wants to believe that Derna will become “a cause to defend.”

But for that, adds his neighbor in bed, wishing to remain anonymous and still trembling when he describes having “literally hit his head against the ceiling when the water filled the entire living room”, “we need a State”.

We need “billions, a new sewerage network”, tells AFP this 53-year-old father who never stops thanking “civil society”.

State intervention? A challenge in Libya, riddled with divisions since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and governed by two rival administrations: one in Tripoli (west), recognized by the UN and led by Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah, the other in the East, affiliated with the camp of powerful Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

“Libya has gone from problem to problem, but now we need a state because Derna is devastated and there are still 70,000 people threatened by epidemics there,” he says, thick-rimmed glasses raised on forehead.

“People can neither drink nor wash with water, how are they going to do it?” he adds, himself awaiting an operation after being affected by infections which have proliferated on his broken hands and feet from swimming in sewage.

Because, he continues, no one imagined “the tsunami” which devastated Derna.

In the evening, “we received an alert saying that the sea level was going to rise, I took my wife and four children to shelter with my in-laws in the mountains overlooking the city.”

Returning alone to Derna, he said he sought advice from local authorities who assured him that his house was not in the threatened area.

Afterwards, everything happened very quickly, says Mr. Omrani: “the deaths, the missing, the destruction of Derna, all of this happened between 3:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m.”.

Suddenly, his house, close to one of the two dams that collapsed, was submerged. He was able to jump from the roof terrace, climb a tree then reach the mountain.

When the water finally receded, there was “neither building nor tree, only the mountain and no living soul: I lived through the apocalypse, without exaggeration”, he tells the ‘AFP, pausing so as not to cry.

His neighbor also says he survived “the worst horror in the world”.

When he finally found his family after an hour and a half of walking among debris and corpses, “they thought they saw a ghost, they were sure I was dead,” he says.

Mr. Omrani, for his part, has the impression of reliving “the American films that we saw before, with everyone dying in them.” “I’m talking to you and I don’t even realize why I’m here in a hospital,” he says.

19/09/2023 14:11:21 –         Benghazi (Libye) (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP