Tarek Fahim was taking videos of the water filling behind the dam in the Derna valley in Libya late Saturday night. Up until 1:30 am, Storm Daniel was just wind and rain. When he went home an hour later, it took very little time between the moment he heard the dam burst and the gushing water flooding his street.
“The amount of water and the cars it was pushing felt like an earthquake,” he says.
He moved the family to the rooftop, and they climbed up a water tank as the water kept rising. They survived. “Maybe one percent of those who lived on ground floors survived,” he says of his neighborhood around al-Fanar street.
When the water level gradually receded, he went back down to check on his neighbors, “but there was meter-high mud on the street,” he recalls. “Just in 15 buildings around me, 33 people died,” he says. As he starts listing the names of the friends he lost, he breaks down in tears.
Across the eastern Libyan city of Derna, thousands died and thousands more are still missing after a catastrophic flood hit the city in the early hours of Sunday.
Tarek’s bare feet are covered in mud from walking through the side streets helping neighbors go through the wreckage of their homes. The trauma and loss are visible on every face. Men sit in front of their hollowed-out houses, some silent, others sobbing.
Across the street Talal Fartas is going through what remains of his jewelry store, picking gold necklaces and bracelets from the mud. “The safe was swept away. Everything is gone,” he says.
Only few traces are left behind of what the shops lining the street used to sell. Pieces of metal dangle from the ceilings of gutted out stores. Vehicles are wedged in terraces and entrances of the low-rise buildings. A purple lunch box sits under a mangle of trees and light post. A couple of blocks up north, the rubble piled up along the sides of the road rises higher and higher until it becomes a swath of debris.
When the two dams outside the city burst, they unleashed a powerful flood that leveled residential blocks. The eastern and western parts of Derna are now separated by a wasteland of destruction that runs across the city all the way to the Mediterranean.
Rescuers go through the collapsed buildings looking for survivors with little hope. Almost all they find are dead bodies and more are believed to be under the heaps of crumbled cement.
Back at al-Fanar street, a man calls for help to dig out the bodies of four children from under the mud.