Libya arrests eight government officials over devastating floods

Two weeks on from the disaster which killed thousands of people, rescuers are still digging through the wreckage, looking for bodies.

Eight officials have been arrested after the devastating floods in Libya, the country’s chief prosecutor said on Monday.

When Storm Daniel hit the African nation earlier this month, the deluge lead to the collapse of two dams and sent a wall of water through the centre of Derna.

The flood left 11,000 people dead and 9,000 people are still missing.

Two weeks on, rescuers are still digging through mud and hollowed-out buildings, looking for bodies.

They are also combing the Mediterranean Sea off Derna, searching for corpses swept away in the floods.

The flooded city of Derna, Libya / Credit: Muhammad J Elalwany/AP

But it is thought the huge levels of death and destruction could have been avoided if the two dams had been maintained properly.

The failure of the structures inundated as much as a quarter of the city, officials said, destroying entire neighbourhoods and sweeping people out to sea.

A statement by the office of General Prosecutor al-Sidiq al-Sour said prosecutors questioned seven former and current officials with the Water Resources Authority and the Dams Management Authority over allegations that mismanagement, negligence and mistakes contributed to the disaster, on Sunday.

Prosecutors ordered the eight to be jailed pending the investigation, the statement added.

The dams were built by a Yugoslav construction company in the 1970s above Wadi Derna, a river valley which divides the city.

They were meant to protect the city from flash floods, which are not uncommon in the area.

But the dams were not maintained for decades, despite warnings by scientists that they may burst.

A report by a state-run audit agency in 2021 said the two dams hadn’t been maintained despite the allocation of more than £1.6mi ($2m) for that purpose in 2012 and 2013.

A Turkish firm was contracted in 2007 to carry out maintenance on the two dams and to build a third one in between them.

People look for survivors in Derna, Libya. / Credit: PA

The firm, Arsel Construction Company Ltd, said on its website that it completed its work in November 2012. It didn’t respond to an email seeking further comment.

The questioning and jailing of officials were a first crucial step by the chief prosecutor in his investigation which is likely to face daunting challenges due to the country’s political division.

Since 2014, eastern Libya has been under the control of Generak Khalifa Hifter and his self-styled Libyan National Army.

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