The heart of Derna in eastern Libya resembles a sprawling graveyard, a desolate landscape of flattened buildings, shattered lives, and overturned vehicles strewn among torn trees. Towering nine-story structures have been wrenched from their foundations and buried beneath layers of mud. In the city center, at least three significant bridges lie in ruins.
Walking through this scene of devastation, one must constantly remind oneself that these were once people’s homes and a bustling street filled with shops and markets. Even the road itself has vanished, replaced by the debris and rubble that now covers the area.
Amid the wreckage, small groups of civilians, armed with little more than pickaxes, have arrived from Tobruk, Misrata, and Benghazi to assist in this overwhelming task. Six days have passed since the catastrophe, and they are among the brave few who have set out to locate their missing loved ones, a daunting challenge given that over 10,000 people are still unaccounted for.
Soldiers and healthcare workers can also be seen in the area, dressed in blue hospital gowns and masks to protect themselves from the pervasive stench of death. The intense heat has accelerated the decomposition of the bodies they are discovering, leaving little hope of finding survivors.
A structural engineer from Derna, Gandi Mohammed Hammoud, asserts that negligence is to blame for this catastrophic disaster. He recalls witnessing his neighbors and friends screaming in terror as the torrential waters tore through their homes and apartments, silencing them forever.
Hammoud emphasizes that engineers had repeatedly warned of the deteriorating condition of the city’s two dams and the need for additional dams to counteract the effects of increasingly heavy annual rainfall. However, no significant action had been taken since 2008, even after the revolution.
The instability, poor governance, corruption, and criminal networks, including people-smuggling operations, have all contributed to this tragedy. Many Libyans believe that the NATO-backed military campaign to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi also weakened critical infrastructure.
Hammoud concludes by demanding accountability for the loss of lives and the destruction of Derna, insisting that those responsible should be held liable for this devastating event.