A Libyan family recounts how they survived the deadly floods

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

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

On Friday, they were buried in the red silt that Storm Daniel left behind as it thundered down the valley and covered this town of 8,000 people in eastern Libya. It took 15 men to clear the 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 house. The bride was with her family. They never had their wedding day.

“We’re afraid of the rain now,” said Nizar, Alaam’s brother, standing in what remained of their kitchen.

In Libya’s flood-shattered east, a disaster of ‘mythic proportions’

Up to 20,000 people could be dead in this war-divided country — victims of a perfect storm of extreme weather and state neglect. As rescue workers search for the missing and bury the dead, survivors carry their own wounds.

When two poorly maintained dams burst Sunday, unleashing a towering wall of water on unsuspecting towns and villages, they shattered ordinary evenings and special occasions alike.

In Derna, the worst-hit city, two newlyweds were found dead beneath their staircase, the bride in her dress and the groom in his suit. Outside an obstetrics hospital Thursday, two brothers were searching for their sister and her newborn after their home was washed away.

“This is a tragedy in which climate and capacity has collided,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said during a briefing in Geneva on Friday. The U.N. humanitarian office had sent a disaster coordination team of 15 people 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. “The floods and the torrents and the destroyed buildings and the sludge still conceal the level of need and death.”

Doctors Without Borders said its representatives had 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 support people coming to the center.”

See why Libya’s floods were so deadly in maps and videos

There was a frenetic energy in central Derna on Friday as Post reporters returned for a second consecutive day. Anxious officers with walkie-talkies cleared the roads, fretting that a high-level official was on the way. Rumors abounded over who it might be.

Aid trucks were more visible than the day before, the cellphone network had been restored, and air force officers directed traffic. Hundreds of men in military fatigues and fluorescent coats lined the boulevards in formation.

In other coastal communities, the mood was more muted, as residents got on with cleanup and excavators…

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