Ayat Mneina is still in shock after the devastating floods that hit the Libyan city of Derna this week, leaving thousands dead.
Mneina, a Libyan Canadian and freelance writer who lives in Brantford, Ontario, says her parents are from Derna. She also has family there and says it has been difficult to get information about the disaster. It took all day Monday to get details, she said.
Mneina said she lost cousins on her mother’s side and their families. Her mother and father also lost her cousins.
“It’s been five days and it still feels like the first moments we were learning about the events unfolding on the ground. We are paralyzed. And it’s very difficult to process what has been happening,” Mneina told CBC Radio. metropolitan morning on Friday.
Mediterranean Storm Daniel hit the coast of Libya on Sunday after ravaging Greece earlier this month. Derna, on the eastern coast of Libya, was especially hard hit.
Two dams around the city’s perimeter collapsed, unleashing a torrent of water on the city’s residents. The storm toppled buildings and swept residential neighborhoods into the sea.
“Basically, people didn’t really see this coming,” Mneina said.
Mneina said she watched the news from her home and was unable to contact anyone because the flood knocked out the power grid in Derna. She said it was in the middle of the night in Derna when the dams broke and water flooded the city. Communications were cut off, there was no electricity or internet for hours.
“Monday was a long day, trying to contact the family on the ground or anyone in the area who could give us information about what had happened.”
According to an Associated Press report on Friday, the disaster has claimed more than 11,000 lives. Authorities warned Friday that waterborne diseases and explosive devices displaced during the flood could cause more deaths.
In the hardest-hit areas of Derna, efforts to recover the dead and distribute aid have been plagued by confusion and lack of resources. Libya’s two opposing governments, long divided by civil conflict and war, have struggled to respond to the disaster.
Al-Jazeera reported on Wednesday that Derna Deputy Mayor Ahmed Madroud said the dams had not been maintained for more than 20 years.
Mneina added: “We could say that there is a history of neglect here as far as ordinary citizens are concerned.”
He said decision makers in Libya suffer from a lack of coordination, communication and willpower and that has worsened the disaster and its consequences.
‘You can’t bury your loved ones’
Mneina said she is grateful that many family members survived, but is heartbroken by the loss of others. The distance between Libya and Canada makes it difficult to grieve properly, she said.
“You can’t bury your loved ones. You can’t comfort those left behind,” he said.
In an interview with CBC Toronto, Mneina said three of her aunts survived by climbing to the roofs of their buildings, where they spent an entire night in the rain, waiting for the water levels to go down.
“One of my aunts tried to go up to the roof and the floor collapsed. She was swept into the water. Her son was swept away and spent hours in the sea and was able to hold on to something and was able to walk back out. She walked to the house of one of her relatives. They were able to take him to the hospital. But my aunt’s husband did not survive the collapse. “My aunt was taken to safety and taken to the hospital.”
LISTEN | Libyan-Canadian writer Ayat Mneina on the devastating Derna floods:
metropolitan morning12:39 p.m.Libyan-Canadian writer on the devastating toll Storm Daniel has had on her family and the broader community within the GTA
Mneina said the Libyan-Canadian community in the greater Toronto area has asked for a donation drive this week and has secured a container that they will fill with donated items, including blankets and clothing.
“The contributions would be life-changing right now. We have people who have been uprooted. Their homes no longer exist. Their city no longer exists. The days ahead are going to be very, very challenging,” he said. “We are all grieving as one.”
Meanwhile, in Toronto, Esra Bengizi, a Libyan Canadian who has family in Derna, said she constantly checks her phone for notifications from loved ones. She has been organizing local Libyans in the GTA by collecting donations to send abroad.
Bengizi said he has mixed emotions about the devastation and fears for Libya’s future.
“It’s been extremely stressful. I’m definitely extremely anxious. I’ve been constantly monitoring Facebook to check in with my family, to see who has been marked as safe,” she said.
Bengizi said she is proud to be Libyan and raising awareness and gathering supplies is helping her cope.
“Being Libyan means being resilient. We have been suffering from one tragedy to another for the last century. We have had to endure Italian colonialism, we have had to endure 42 years of a dictator and the civil war that followed that. I hate to say that we are accustomed to violence, we are accustomed to instability,” he said.
“But this really shows the resilience of my people.”