A week after the floods in Libya, residents are mainly busy recovering bodies. There has hardly been any room to process the disaster. There is anger about the overdue maintenance of the dams, it becomes apparent when we speak to a resident.
The house of Awad Alshalwhy (29) is located in the upper part of the hard-hit city of Derna. Awad was not in the city during the deluge. Sometimes he wishes his house had been in a lower part, he tells NU.nl by telephone. That’s how hard it is for him to see the aftermath of the disaster.
Awad arrived in Derna one night after the flood. Because he did not yet have a comprehensive view of the city, the magnitude of the disaster only dawned on him in the morning. The entire beach was gone. It now turns red from the rubble that has been washed away from the city.
Awad had never seen a mess like this, not even under the rule of the terrorist group IS. The devastation is not only visible, but can also be smelled by the bodies lying under the rubble. “The smell is horrible, there are no words for that.”
It hurts him that Derna, with its old town and beautiful beaches, has been destroyed. “Derna is gone forever,” he says. He himself lost uncles, aunts and many friends due to the disaster.
The residents of Derna are still working day and night to remove bodies from the beach and dig out the rubble. Awad immediately went to work at the cemetery. What he saw there affected him a lot. “On the first day, the bodies that came to the cemetery were still recognizable. Over the next few days, the bodies that had washed up started to look more and more like zombies.”
Anger about overdue maintenance
According to Awad, the fact that everyone was and is busy recovering bodies means that there has not been much room for residents to mourn. Everyone is actually still in shock about what happened. In addition, there is anger about the lack of maintenance of the dams that have broken.
You can also hear the anger in Awad’s voice when it comes to the city administrators. Scientists warned for years about the poor condition of the dams, he says. Even last year. The city council did nothing about the warnings.
Awad expects that those responsible for poor maintenance will never be held responsible. There is a lot of corruption in Libya. Awad fears that the judge will never go after those responsible for the disaster.
What also frustrates Awad about the political leaders is their absence in arranging emergency aid. “The government and parliament, in both eastern and western Libya, have done little for us.”
That feeling is widely supported: people went to Derna on Monday, according to the news agency Bloomberg thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the eastern Libyan government. Protesters blame the government for taking three days to convene, while survivors, volunteers, aid organizations and soldiers struggled to assess the damage and launch rescue efforts.
Fraternization after disaster
Where there is a lack of confidence in the administrators, Awad does get a lot of support from the unity that the population currently forms in helping the disaster area. Both from the west and from the east of Libya. “The disaster unites us,” he says.
Libyans from all over the country have driven to Derna to help, even from towns Awad had never heard of. They clear the rubble and repair pipes and electricity. Together they work hard to limit the damage as much as possible and make the city liveable again.
It took a few days for everything to get going, but he finds the help he sees in the city heart-warming. In addition to his fellow countrymen, aid organizations such as the Red Crescent, the United Nations and Doctors Without Borders ensure that emergency aid is available. They provide residents with resources, such as food, bottled water and medical care. “I didn’t see anyone who died of famine after the disaster.”
That optimism disappears when Awad thinks about when he thinks he will be teaching English again. Logically, he hadn’t thought about that yet in the hustle and bustle. But no matter how much he enjoys the contact with his students, Awad says in tears that he cannot yet imagine that life in Derna will ever return to normal.
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