As authorities in Libya announced a three-day mourning period following a deadly flood disaster, a Catholic bishop in the North African country expressed the Church’s closeness to the people, many of whom are injured, missing or trapped by the storm waters.
On Sept. 13, the authorities estimated that over 5,100 people had died and 10,000 were reportedly missing. Some media outlets already put the death toll at 6,000 people. The high number of those missing has provoked fears there will be a sharp rise in the number of deaths from the tsunami-like storm.
“For the time being, we are praying and keeping all in God’s mercy,” said Bishop George Bugeja, apostolic vicar of Tripoli.
As a consequence of two dams that broke near the city of Derna, the bishop said, “the water that came out with mud destroyed anything that was in its way: houses, streets.”
Powerful Mediterranean Storm Daniel, including catastrophic rainfall in a short time, triggered the heavy flooding in eastern parts of the country. As the storm pounded the coast Sept. 10, residents said they heard loud explosions when the dams outside the city collapsed, The Associated Press reported.
Derna, an eastern port city of approximately 90,000 people, has borne the highest brunt of the flooding. Authorities said 25% of the city had been destroyed, after water from the two broken dams swiped entire neighborhoods into the sea. The impact also has spread to other cities.
“The city of Derna was submerged by waves 7 meters (23 feet) high that destroyed everything in their path,” Yann Fridez, head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Libya, told broadcaster France24. “The human toll is enormous.”
Local disaster responders continue digging through rubble looking for the dead.
Climate analysts and agency officials have viewed the disaster as a consequence of the global climate crisis, which continues to trigger storms, floods, droughts, famine and heat waves, among other disasters.
But a long running armed conflict is viewed to have exacerbated the disaster, since the fighting has made it difficult to maintain structures such as roads, the dams and buildings. Libya has not had a stable government since the overthrow of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. He seized power in the oil-rich country in 1969 and ruled for four decades until he was toppled and killed in a rebellion assisted by Western military intervention.
Since 2014, when the civil war began, Libya has been divided into competing political and military factions. The two sides signed a permanent ceasefire in 2020, but political rivalries continue.
On Sept. 11, the Libyan government appealed to friendly nations and the international relief organizations to send help to the communities affected by the floods. The U.N. said it had mobilized support together with its partners.
The appeal for help has triggered global outpouring and calls for support, with relief organizations — including those from the Catholic Church — preparing to respond to the floods disaster.
“At this time, our thoughts are with the thousands of people being affected there in their communities, we stand in solidarity with all the people in Libya during this difficult time,” said U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric in a press briefing in New York on behalf of the secretary-general.