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Libya floods: Mayor of Derna arrested, other officials under investigation

Criminal cases have been opened against 16 officials in relation to the collapse of dams during Storm Daniel, which caused widespread flooding and death
People sit among the rubble in Libya's eastern city of Derna on 20 September 2023, following a deadly flash flood (AFP)

Libya's attorney general has announced the arrest of the mayor of Derna and the launch of investigations into 16 other officials after devastating floods levelled the city.

The arrest and investigations come after the collapse of two of the city's dams during Storm Daniel earlier in September, causing the death of over 4,000 people and leaving around 46,000 displaced.

Mayor Abdel-Moneim al-Ghaithi's arrest was announced by the Public Prosecutor's Office in Tripoli, which issued the order on accusations of misuse of authority and questions surrounding the allocation of funds for the reconstruction and development of the dams. 

Since the flooding struck, many survivors have asked whether the mayor issued clear instructions for local residents to leave.

The statement issued by the Public Prosecutor's Office stated it would also investigate whether others in charge had "mismanaged reconstruction" of the city. 

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The prosecutor general from Libya's Tripoli-based government, Al-Seddik Al-Sour, first announced investigations on 16 September, vowing to determine the circumstances leading to the collapse of the dams.

Cracks in the dams

According to prosecutors, those responsible for managing dams in Libya had reported cracks in both of them as early as 1998.

Both dams were constructed by a Yugoslav company in the 1970s, "not to collect water but to protect Derna from floods", according to Sour. Before the dams were built, Derna was hit by several significant floods.

Two years later, Libyan authorities hired an Italian engineering firm to assess the damage. It confirmed the cracks and recommended the construction of a third dam to protect the city, Sour added.

In November 2022, engineer and academic Abdel Wanis Ashour warned in a study that a "catastrophe" threatened Derna if the authorities did not carry out maintenance on the dams.

The warning went unheeded even though Libya boasts Africa's richest oil reserves and is not lacking in resources.

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