Dams in storm-hit Derna in eastern Libya have not been maintained for more than two decades and the infrastructure was not built to withstand the effects of this week’s devastating floods, the city’s deputy mayor has said.
Ahmed Madroud said on Tuesday that the destruction from Storm Daniel in Derna will be difficult to repair.
“The dams have not been maintained since 2002, and they are not big,” Madroud told Al Jazeera.
According to Madroud, the first dam that failed was only 70 metres (230 feet) tall. Once the water rushed past it, it accumulated behind the second dam, eventually causing it to burst.
The death toll in Derna from Storm Daniel, which hit on Sunday and Monday, is now approximately 3,000, Madroud said, adding that bodies were still being pulled out of the water.
He estimated that the number of those killed may be closer to 5,000 – but the figure has not yet been confirmed.
Though communication has been restored to some parts of Derna, Madroud said, road access has not yet been fully secured, and internet and electricity have been off in the city of about 100,000 people since the storm hit – which is why the numbers of those dead, missing and displaced are expected to rise.
“According to the information I have received, at least 20 percent of the city is destroyed,” Madroud said.
Many buildings are clustered in narrow streets very close to where the water was running and were not built well, he said.
“When the river overflowed its banks, then it just took all the buildings with it, and the families that were in it.”
The widespread destruction will be also difficult to repair in the midst of the country’s political instability.
The administration in the west of the country, led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, is based in Tripoli and recognised internationally.
In the disaster-stricken east, there is another rival administration based in Benghazi, and backed by the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the renegade general Khalifa Haftar. The conflict between the two rival administrations, along with decades of rule by former leader Muammar Gaddafi, has left Libya with a weakened infrastructure.
Madroud said he is waiting for the arrival of an Algerian aid shipment by air. Once it arrives, he plans to drive into Derna with the aid.
Many are in need of need shelter, food, and hygiene supplies, he said.
The eastern officials have asked for assistance, but the country’s central bank, which is tasked with allocating funds across the country, only recognises the western government.
While support from the rival administrations in Libya is “appreciated”, Madroud said the country “needs a bigger international effort” and noted “Libya will not be able to rebuild on its own”.
Hani Shennib, president of the National Council on US Libya Relations, said the east-west political divide in Libya has a major impact on how services are provided, including disaster relief.
“There is a huge resentment and a fracture between the two sides. There is resentment even on the streets as to why the east has been neglected all this time … to the extent that even individuals and groups that are trying to help from the west bringing in private cars are not very well received in the east,” the physician told Al Jazeera from Phoenix, Arizona in the United States.
“I have visited Derna quite frequently. I have been shocked that a city of 100,000 people does not have a single hospital that is functioning,” Shennib noted.
“The only hospital that is functioning in Derna today is a rented villa that has five bedrooms providing the services to the population. This is not new. This is going on for 42 years. It has caused the alienation and political turmoil since the days of Gaddafi,” he said.
Shennib went on to describe the flooding as “the straw that has broken the camel’s back”.
“The erosions in the dams in Derna are not new. They have been reported repeatedly, including in scientific journals from 2011 and moving on,” he said.
“No official has paid attention to it. This is not just a natural disaster, this is a human disaster as well as a result of the neglect of the city.”