For a considerable period, experts had consistently warned about the substantial threat that floods posed to two dams designed to safeguard the lives of nearly 90,000 individuals in northeastern Libya. They had continually emphasized the urgent need for maintenance on these two structures, situated uphill from the coastal city of Derna. However, successive governments in the tumultuous North African nation remained unresponsive to these concerns.
“In the event of a big flood, the consequences will be disastrous for the residents of the valley and the city,” Abdelwanees Ashoor, a professor of civil engineering, wrote in a study published last year in the Sabha University Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences.
The warnings came true in the early hours of Sept. 11, when residents of Derna woke up to loud explosions before floodwaters pounded the Mediterranean city. They found that two dams had broken, unleashing a wall of water two stories high that wreaked destruction and swept entire neighborhoods out to sea.
The deluge proved deadly for thousands in just seconds, uprooting apartment buildings and washing away roads and bridges. More than 11,300 people were reported killed, including foreigners, and over 10,000 remained missing a week after the disaster, according to the Libyan Red Crescent and the United Nations.
Neglect and corruption are rife in Libya, a country of about 7 million people that lies on a wealth of proven oil and natural gas reserves. As of 2022, the country ranked 171 out of 180 on the transparency index compiled by Transparency International.
The North African nation has been in nation has been in chaos since 2011, when an Arab Spring uprising, backed by NATO, ousted longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed.
The country has since divided between rival administrations: one in the west backed by an array of lawless armed groups and militias, and the second in the east allied with the self-styled Libyan National Army, which is commanded by powerful Gen. Khalifa Hifter.
The dams, Abu Mansour and Derna, were built by a Yugoslav construction company in the 1970s above Wadi Derna, which divides the city. Abu Mansour, 14 kilometers (8.6 miles) from the city, was 74 meters (243 feet) high and could hold up to 22.5 million cubic meters of water. The Derna dam, also known as Belad, is much closer to the city and could hold 1.5 million cubic meters of water.
The dams, built from clay, rocks and earth, were meant to protect the city from flash floods, which are not uncommon in the area. Water collected behind the dams was used to irrigate crops downstream.
“Both dams had not been maintained for many years, despite repeated floods that struck the city in the past,” said Saleh Emhanna, a geological researcher with the University of Ajdabia in Libya. “They were dilapidated.”
Tragically, a plane collision claimed the lives of two pilots just one month after officials had canceled the Reno Air Races due to safety concerns. The incident occurred on Sunday, September 17, outside Nevada’s Reno-Stead Airport, marking the unfortunate conclusion of a significant tourism event in the region.
The updates were shared by the Reno Air Racing Association on Facebook, as they identified the deceased pilots as Chris Rushing and Nick Macy. It added that no civilians were reported to be injured.
Both the men were described by the association as “expertly skilled pilots and Gold winners in the T-6 Class.”
“Safety is the foremost concern of RARA and we work year-round to host the safest event possible. As we always do, we are co-operating with the National Transportation Safety Board, the FAA and all local authorities to identify the cause of the accident and ensure that all of our pilots, spectators and volunteers have the necessary support during this time,” wrote the association, in one post.
“I am completely devastated and heartbroken today,” stated Fred Telling, Chairman of the Reno Air Racing Association and President of the T-6 Class, as per a second post.
“These two pilots weren’t just an integral part of the National Championship Air Race family, they were a part of my family. My heart goes out to their own families and to all of the spectators and fans who have so enthusiastically supported us this week,” he added.
Live stream footage captures horrific incident
The incident was captured in live stream footage and revealed how the terrified people screamed after seeing the crash. Months back, the board of trustees of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority voted to discontinue the event over safety issues after a pilot was killed last year because of a plane crash, as per The US Sun.