Libya: in Derna, shocked survivors recount the disaster

It was two o'clock in the morning when Abdel Moneim Awad Al-Sheikh heard screams

Libya: in Derna, shocked survivors recount the disaster

It was two o'clock in the morning when Abdel Moneim Awad Al-Sheikh heard screams. Jumping out of his bed, he discovers that water is spreading everywhere, then waves tear off the doors of his house in Derna, sweeping away everything in their path.

Torrential rains that fell on this town in eastern Libya on the night of September 10-11 led to the collapse of two dams, causing a tsunami-sized wave along a wadi usually at dry.

Standing in front of the stairs of his destroyed house, staring at the landscape of devastation spread out before him, Abdel Moneim remembers how he and his family survived the catastrophe that left thousands dead and missing.

"I left the house and I didn't take anything except my glasses and my cell phone. I went out and the water was shaking the iron doors," the 73-year-old told AFP.

Parts of the city, including buildings and infrastructure, were wiped off the map, and residents said most of the victims were buried in mud or swept towards the Mediterranean.

On Sunday, at the port of Derna, Turkish and Russian divers were still searching for bodies, a week after the disaster. Not far from them, other Emirati and Libyan rescuers were meeting to “coordinate” their operations.

Between Abdel Moneim's house and the wadi, "there were three or four buildings. Today there is nothing left. Only earth. It's as if there was no constructions here,” he laments.

Today, the floor of his house, on the first floor, is covered with a thick layer of dry earth, the windows are devastated, sections of walls are cracked or destroyed. He lived there with his wife. His two sons and their families occupy the other floors of the building.

When the door to their house was destroyed by the powerful floods, they went up to the fourth floor. But that wasn't the end of their "nightmare."

After a quarter of an hour, says Abdel Moneim, “my son shouted to say that another wave was coming and that it was bigger than the first, about 20 meters high.”

He said he and his family were forced to climb even higher, to the fifth floor, on the roof of his neighbor's house.

“We used a wooden ladder and stayed until dawn when young volunteers came to help us.”

Like Abdel Moneim, many families in Derna have experienced the same nightmare.

Mohamad Abdelhafidh, a Lebanese resident in Derna, told AFP that he had "seen death". He was sleeping when he felt a "shake". “I thought it was an earthquake.”

He then asked his sister and father to go down to the street, but from his balcony, he discovered that the water had risen to the level of his apartment, on the third floor.

He said he and his family members went to the upper floors where they stayed until the water level receded.

According to a latest report communicated by the Ministry of Health of the government based in the east of the divided country, the disaster left 3,283 dead. The final toll could be much higher due to the number of missing people, who number in the thousands.

"The day before (the disaster), we had received warnings that heavy rains were expected and that we should stay at home. Nothing else," recalls Mohammed Al-Zawi, 25.

Surprised by the waves, the bearded young man told AFP he survived with his family of nine by climbing onto the roof of their two-story house.

As soon as the water level dropped, he said he went out into the street and saw 25 to 30 bodies before rushing to the survivors to help them.

“The water swept away cars with people inside, people and goods. Everything was dumped into the sea,” he remembers, still in shock.

18/09/2023 14:23:04 -         Derna (Libye) (AFP) -         © 2023 AFP