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DERNA, Libya–Nearly 10,000 people in the North African country of Libya remain missing after Storm Daniel slammed into its port city, Derna. With a death toll standing at over 6,000, the lack of infrastructure and leadership in the divided nation highlights the devastating role a U.S.-backed coup continues to play.
Storm Daniel represents one of the deadliest cyclone-like storms in the Mediterranean after first forming on Sept. 4 over Greece. By the time it reached Libya’s east coast on Sunday, the city of Derna didn’t stand a chance.
“The death toll is huge and might reach thousands,” said Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in a report from Al Jazeera. Described as a river tsunami, the waves from Storm Daniel jolted Libya and crashed into the city of Derna, bursting through two dams and releasing 30 million cubic meters of water into an unsuspecting population.
One 52-year-old truck driver broke into tears as he told Al Jazeera about his search for his wife.
“I walked around, searching for them … I went to all the hospitals and schools but no luck,” Usama al-Husadi said.
Morgues remain overrun as officials collect bodies from streets, homes and across the city. According to Derna’s deputy mayor, the dams had not been maintained since 2002, and they weren’t very large.
Officials say a quarter of the city, which contained 100,000 citizens, has been completely wiped out. And the divided national government has only complicated the effort to find survivors of Storm Daniel in Libya.
For instance, two ruling factions run the country, one in the east and the other in the west. While both sides have signaled interest in cooperating to address the flooding, the lack of cohesion among the power-seeking fractional governments remains an obstacle in the relief effort.
Obama admitted: U.S.-backed coup in Libya was his ‘worst mistake’ years before Storm Daniel floods
It was the U.S., under the Obama administration, that led the authorization of military force against former longtime Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Supporters of the coup hoped Gaddafi’s assassination would lead to democracy. Instead, it lead to a bitter struggle between rival groups seeking power over the country’s oil resources and infrastructure.
First populated by Berbers (pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa), the area known today as Libya falled under the control of various empires for centuries, beginning with the Romans in 74 B.C. The country remained under the control of various European nations from the 1700s until it gained independence in 1951 under King Idris I.
Muammar Gaddafi, a military colonel, seized power from the king in a coup in 1969 and ruled Libya for over four decades as a dictator. He’d long been accused of human rights abuses, but his death led to a vacuum of power that has made the lives of the nation’s citizens.
In 2011, during the Arab Spring, protests and armed conflict erupted in Libya against Gaddafi’s regime. The U.S. and NATO intervened militarily to support the opposition forces, leading to a civil war. Gaddafi was eventually captured and killed by rebel forces in October 2011. After Gaddafi’s downfall, Libya descended into chaos, with rival factions and militias vying for control, foreshadowing the havock wreaked by Storm Daniel.
In a Fox News interview several years ago, Barack Obama said his worst mistake as president was “probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya.”
In 2015, the United Nations brokered a peace deal, leading to the formation of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
However, rival governments, including the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and General Khalifa Haftar’s forces in the east, continued to challenge the GNA’s authority.
Picking up the pieces in Libya after Storm Daniel
With communication and power lines down across the city of Derna, the relief effort in Libya continues to face significant challenges. At least three volunteers with the Libyan Red Crescent have died during the search for survivors, the Climate Centre announced on Wednesday.
Al Jazeera has created a list of resources where people can donate and support the relief effort. Click here to view the list. Ultimately, Storm Daniel has changed Libya for a generation, highlighting the negative consequences that can result from a combination of foreign military intervention and a heating planet.
“At least 20 percent of the city has been destroyed,” Deputy Mayor Madroud said.