World

The horrifying moment a girl’s body was found in a city flattened by floods

The centre of the eastern Libyan city of Derna is like one big graveyard – a mass of flattened buildings, wrecked lives and upended vehicles amid torn trees.

Huge nine-storey buildings have been ripped off their foundations and smothered by volumes of mud.

From where I stood, I could see at least three huge bridges in the city centre were levelled.

As we walked through the mountains of rubble, boulders and rocks, we had to keep reminding ourselves these were once people’s homes, this was once a street packed with shops and malls. Even the road was non-existent.

Desperate search for survivors continues – latest updates

Derna
Entire buildings had been moved by the floodwater
Image:
Entire buildings had been moved by the floodwater

A few hours after daybreak there were small groups of civilians, some with just pickaxes, trampling over the boulders and rubble left in the centre in the wake of Storm Daniel.

They told us they travelled from Tobruk, Misrata and Benghazi to help in what must be a truly awful task.

Six days on, they were among several small groups setting out to try to locate their missing relatives who are included in the more than 10,000 still unaccounted for.

There were a few groups of soldiers, too – as well as pockets of health workers dressed in blue hospital gowns and wearing masks to save them from the stench of death that hung over this whole area.

The steaming heat has meant the corpses they found were putrid after nearly a week of decomposing.

They carried body bags.

Few here still held out hope of finding anyone alive.

Read more:
Before and after pictures show devastation
What caused the sheer scale of destruction?

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How the flooding cut through the city

Mediterranean turned a murky brown by ugly leftovers of tragedy

There was a lot of activity down at the port in Derna.

The normally blue Mediterranean sea had turned a murky brown.

There were clusters of relief workers gathered around watching a digger tear into the mountains of flotsam at the water’s edge.

Among the debris were upside-down smashed-up cars in different twisted states.

They looked as if some angry giant toddler had thrown them all there in a childish rage.

Derna
Derna
Streets were strewn with mud and cars
Image:
Streets were strewn with mud and cars

We watched as the metal bucket of the digger sifted through the ugly leftovers of this tragedy.

The sea was covered in a blanket of chipped wood, broken-off metal, bits of wardrobe, and folded sodden mattresses.

Much of the debris bears no resemblance at all to its original state.

The digger operator was methodically trying to toss this all to one side as he looked for bodies.

There were divers on dinghies bobbing up and down on the waves who were also scouring the water.

Further out, an Italian naval ship was positioned off the coast. It had been helping recover those washed out to sea as the water smashed its way down Derna’s valley.

Stunned silence as body of young girl recovered from water

As various relief workers hung off the side of his cab and stood like sentinels on the back of the metal casing, the scoop was suddenly filled with the unmistakable shape of a small human.

There was a collective intake of horror as the momentum of the machine caused two thin legs to flop over the teeth of the digger’s scoop for a brief yet completely horrifying few seconds before falling back in.

It was the corpse of a young child – maybe 10 or 11.

Everyone witnessing this truly awful scene was stunned into silence.

It was entirely and utterly dreadful.

Rescue workers pull the body of a child out of the sea
Image:
Rescue workers pull the body of a child out of the sea

Two relief workers raced down carrying a black body bag and the child – who looked like a girl – was hurriedly tucked into it.

They raced back up the hill to deposit the body into the back of an ambulance.

It was not clear why they were scrambling but it crossed my mind they might just be saving those looking on from further trauma after a monumentally traumatic six days.

It’s estimated more than 10,000 are still unaccounted for – there is so much trauma yet to come.

Men pray between digging
Image:
Men pray between digging

A Libyan soldier inspects a destroyed flat
Image:
A Libyan soldier inspects a destroyed flat

‘They should have known’

A structural engineer told Sky News the catastrophic disaster was down to negligence.

“They should have known,” Gandi Mohammed Hammoud told us.

He said he watched as his neighbours and friends screamed in terror as the torrent of water tore apart their homes and flats.

“Then it went silent – which means they died,” he told us. “We saw some friends literally being swept away in front of us.”

Structural engineer Gandi Mohammed Hammoud says there had been plenty of warnings
Image:
Structural engineer Gandi Mohammed Hammoud

Mr Hammoud said there’d been plenty of warnings from engineers about the poor state of the city’s two dams and how several more needed to be built to halt the water caused by increasingly heavy yearly rainfall.

“Nothing has been done since 2008 and after the revolution to strengthen the two dams,” he told us.

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The instability, poor governance, corruption and mafia-style politicking here – including a network of people-smuggling gangs – have all conspired to make this tragedy possible.

Many Libyans believe the bombing during the NATO-backed military campaign to oust Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi also weakened the structures.

“Someone should pay for these deaths,” Mr Hammoud said. “Someone should be held accountable for what happened here.”

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