Libyan family tells how they survived deadly floods | ET REALITY


SOUSSA, Libya — The white walls of Alaam Sadaawi’s home are stained red with the muddy handprints left by his wedding guests, holding on for dear life as the waters rose around them.

His family had been planning the party for weeks. Her father, Mayloud, 70, bought silver trays for the food and new cups for the sweet tea.

On Friday, they were buried in the red silt left behind by Storm Daniel as it moved through the valley and blanketed this town of 8,000 people in eastern Libya. It took 15 men to clean layers of dirt from the marble floors, the family said. The trauma will be harder to erase.

Alaam, the groom, was recovering in a nearby city when Washington Post reporters visited the home. The bride was with her family. They never had their wedding day.

“Now we are afraid of the rain,” said Nizar, Alaam’s brother, standing in what was left of his kitchen.

In flood-ravaged eastern Libya, a disaster of ‘mythical proportions’

Up to 20,000 people could die in this country divided by war – victims of a perfect storm of extreme weather and state negligence. While rescuers search for the missing and bury the dead, survivors carry their own wounds.

When two failing dams burst Sunday, unleashing a massive wall of water on unsuspecting cities and towns, they shattered normal evenings and special occasions alike.

In Derna, the most affected city, two newlyweds were found dead under their staircase, the bride in her dress and the groom in his suit. Outside an obstetrics hospital Thursday, two brothers searched for their sister and her newborn after their house was leveled.

“This is a tragedy where climate and capacity have collided,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said during a briefing in Geneva on Friday. The U.N. humanitarian office had sent a 15-person disaster coordination team to Libya, he said, redeployed from the earthquake zone in Morocco, as the region reeled from twin catastrophes.

“In Libya, we don’t know the extent of the problem,” Griffiths said. “Floods, torrents, destroyed buildings and mud still hide the level of need and death.”

Doctors Without Borders said its representatives toured three health centers in Derna and found one out of service because almost all of its medical staff had died. The other two were operating with volunteer doctors from Tripoli but were asking for more support, the group said, “mainly for mental health to help people who come to the center.”

Find out in maps and videos why the Libyan floods were so deadly

There was a frenetic energy in downtown Derna on Friday as Post reporters returned for the second day in a row. Anxious agents with walkie-talkies cleared the roads, worried that a high-level official was on his way. Rumors abounded about who he might be.

Aid trucks were more visible than the day before, the mobile phone network had been restored and air force officers were directing traffic. Hundreds of men dressed in military uniforms and fluorescent coats lined the boulevards in formation.

In other coastal communities, the mood was calmer, as residents continued cleanup and bulldozers combed the debris for bodies. In Soussa, 60 miles west of Derna, the Sadaawi family remembered the happy, nervous energy in the house that Sunday afternoon, which now seemed so far away.

Relatives were packed into every room, children excited to see their cousins ​​and adults ready to prepare the banquet. They sacrificed 13 sheep for the wedding, scheduled for Thursday, then lit the barbecue at dusk and ate together under the pomegranate trees in their garden.

Inside the house, holiday lanterns shone from the ceiling and younger cousins ​​played musical chairs in their party dresses. Alaam’s older brother, Najm, was running final errands in his car when the rains began.

The downpour lashed the city’s flat concrete roofs and vast green orchards. At 11:30 p.m., water poured down the valley and through the entrance gates. “It happened in seconds,” Nizar, 40, recalled.

The lights went out and the music stopped. The children froze.

As of Friday afternoon, Soussa authorities had counted 10 dead, 50 missing and 200 injured. Dozens of houses had sunk into the sea or been destroyed and debris had spread from the land to the coast. Few aid groups appeared to have arrived in the area.

Inside the Saadawi family home, muddy handprints covered nearly every wall, rising up the stairs the family had climbed as the waters rose faster and faster. Some of the prints were small. “We would just grab the kids and throw them in there,” Nizar said.

They all reached the upper floor, with water up to their necks. Alaam said he and the other men held the children above their heads. Neighbors shouted from the rooftops as a family of six was swept away by the waters. The groom was then sure that he would die.

They were saved when the kitchen wall collapsed, Nizar said, and water flooded the patio where they had been eating. The tide slowly receded and the bridal pots, pans and lanterns rested softly on the muddy ground. It was as if a terrible spirit had left the room, a friend said.

Soaked to the skin and deeply shocked, Nizar hit his head with his hands. “It felt like a dream,” he remembers thinking.

On Friday, the reminders were everywhere. A briefcase with bank notes that would have been a wedding gift was drying on a bed. On the roof were scarlet red chairs for the guests.

In Libyan culture, traditionally the groom’s father pays for the wedding. Mayloud now lives in the ruins of a day that was meant to bring pride. But his children were alive, he said, and that was the main thing.

“These things wouldn’t mean anything if they were hurt,” he said, looking through the broken kitchen wall at the stove, situated in the marshes of the yard.

As winter approached, they would have to repair the house, but they didn’t know how they could afford it. “We only receive monthly salaries,” Najm said. “We will stay in this house as it is.”

No one in Soussa has slept much since the flood. In their nightmares, many see rain.

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