(ORDO NEWS) — In early September 2023, the Libyan port city of Derna was hit by a devastating natural disaster: heavy rain caused by a cyclone led to flash floods that destroyed roads and carried neighborhoods out to sea. More than 100 mm of rain fell on Derna on September 10 and 11, leaving the city ill-prepared for heavy rains.
Derna, home to about 90,000 people, is located at the end of a long, narrow valley called a wadi. Normally dry except during the rainy season, the wadi has become a deadly passage for flood waters. The flooding caused the collapse of two dams along the wadi, with the second dam only a kilometer inland from Derna. The failure of this dam caused flood waters to reach heights of 3–7 m (10–23 ft), causing widespread destruction and devastation throughout the city.
Satellite images taken by the Landsat 9 Operational Land Imager-2 (OLI-2) satellite before and after the hurricane provide a stark contrast. The image taken on August 25, 2023 shows a typical cityscape, while the image taken on September 18 shows the eroded shores of Wadi Derna at its confluence with the Mediterranean Sea. The water near the coast appears cloudier, indicating the effects of flooding.
According to preliminary estimates by the United Nations Satellite Center (UNOSAT), about 3,100 buildings were damaged by the surging water in Derna. According to the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), as a result of the hurricane in Libya, about 40 thousand people were forced to leave their homes, of which 30 thousand were from Derna alone.
The storm that hit Derna was classified as a tropical cyclone, also known as a medicane. Such cyclones are rare and, as a rule, occur only once or twice a year in the Mediterranean region in the autumn. However, this particular cyclone turned out to be the deadliest in African history, according to meteorologists from Yale Climate Connections. Scientists from World Weather Attribution assessed and concluded that the amount of rainfall in the region is between one in 300 and one in 600 years.
The devastation caused by flash floods in Derna serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of coastal cities to extreme weather events. As climate change continues, it is critical for governments and communities to prioritize adaptation and resilience measures to mitigate the impact of such disasters.
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