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The scale of devastation in eastern Libya mounts after devastating floods


How do people in eastern Libya resume life in their devastated cities?


Flooding in the city of Derna collapsed high-rise buildings in seconds a few days ago. Libya's Red Crescent says more than 11,000 people were killed in the city, and that is not a final number.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Aya Batrawy is covering the story, joins us now from Dubai. What do we know about the situation in this city today?

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: We actually still don't know the full number of dead. But what we can see clearly from satellite images of Darna before and after Sunday night's storm is the scale of this devastation. Before this storm, the city of about 100,000 people in the eastern part of Libya had this gorgeous Mediterranean coastline. And now residents say the city is wrecked, buried under mud and completely unrecognizable. And in those before and after satellite images, you can see soccer pitches where kids once played, mosques that served the community, entire buildings. And now they've just vanished. All the bridges that connect the city's east to west were destroyed and wiped out when this heavy rainfall from a storm burst two dams in the city.

And the deputy mayor of Darna, the city, told Al Jazeera those dams hadn't been maintained in over 20 years. So when those dams burst around 3 a.m. in the middle of the night, you can imagine most people were asleep. Some people did try climbing to rooftops, but even that couldn't save some of them because their buildings just crumbled under the weight of the tsunami-like torrent of water. So now you have about a third of the city's residents homeless, medical services overstretched, roads cut off between eastern cities in Libya and the threat of disease and contaminated water from all of this.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. All that just sounds awful. What are people there saying?

BATRAWY: Well, there's a collective trauma. I mean, you have people who've lost their children, their spouses, their parents. They just vanished within seconds. These bodies were swept out into the sea. There may never be closure for them. There may never be burials. My colleague, Fatima Al-Kassab, she reached Dr. Najib Tarhoni in the eastern city of Benghazi and Libya. He has relatives in Darna who survived.

NAJIB TARHONI: The city is no longer livable. These people now need jobs. They need taking care of, psychological support. The stories are horrifying. They have seen death not just in their families but within themselves, as well. Their souls are crushed. Their hope is lost. How can you come back from such a thing?

MARTÍNEZ: Aya, we know that Libyans from across the country are trying their best to help, and international aid is on the way. Some are saying, though, it's not getting to Derna quickly enough and that this tragedy might have been avoided.

BATRAWY: I mean, yeah, just start with the country's oil reserves. This country should be prosperous. But for the past 10 years, it's been under two divided government's divided rule. You have one government claiming authority in Tripoli, the capital. You have another government claiming authority in the east in Benghazi. And you can imagine how that's gotten in the way of everything, including the relief effort. You know, even just journalists and aid workers trying to get into Libya are finding a logistical nightmare to do this. Visas issued from Tripoli might not be recognized in Benghazi. You know, security permits issued from Benghazi might not be recognized at certain border crossings. And all of this makes aid getting in extremely difficult.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.