Dam Failures Create Devastating Floods in the Port City of Derna, Libya

Within the span of a week, two natural disasters hit North African nations. On Monday, 11 September, just days after a major earthquake hit Morocco's High Atlas Mountains, Storm Daniel made landfall in Northwest Libya, leading to the collapse of two dams, which released torrents of mud and water into the country’s coastline, killing thousands and destroying large parts of the port city of Derna, as well as other cities and villages such as Benghazi, Bayda, and al-Marj. The scale of the disaster is still being assessed, with more than 10,000 residents still missing and thousands more displaced. Entire neighborhoods of Derna, a city traversed by the flooded Wadi Derna River, have been swept away.

Home to artifacts from the Hellenistic period, the city of Derna is of historical and cultural importance, once located at the intersection of Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic influences. Initially founded as an Ancient Greek colony, the multicultural aspect was still visible in the public squares and bazaars and in the historical town housing a mosque, church, and synagogue. Satellite images published by NBC reveal the scale of the disaster, as one official estimates that a quarter of the entire city has been completely destroyed.

Reports by Al Jazeera also show a collapsed road between Susa and Shahat, where the UNESCO-listed archeological site of Cyrene is located. The site holds the ruins of a colony of the Greeks of Thera, one of the main cities in the Hellenic world, which was later Romanized. According to Hyperallergic, officials around the world have raised concerns about the vulnerability of Libyan cultural heritage before the floods.

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In 2016, the World Heritage Committee added five archaeological sites to its List of World Heritage in Danger. The sites are the Archaeological Site of Cyrene, the Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna, the Archaeological Site of Sabratha, the Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus, and the Old Town of Ghadamès. This decision was prompted by the ‘high level of instability affecting the country,’ invoking also the damage already incurred and the threat of further damage.

International aid has been mobilized to help those affected by the floods, but the efforts are made difficult by internal conflict and divisions. Several international organizations are accepting donations to help the victims, as compiled by Al Jazeera:

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Cite: Maria-Cristina Florian. "Dam Failures Create Devastating Floods in the Port City of Derna, Libya" 15 Sep 2023. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/1006881/dam-failures-create-devastating-floods-in-the-port-city-of-derna-libya> ISSN 0719-8884

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