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Over 11 000 dead, 10 000 missing as Medicane “Marquesa” (Daniel) causes catastrophic flooding in Libya

aftermath of floods in the city of derna libya september 2023

Medicane “Marquesa”, also known as Storm Daniel, made a devastating landfall in Libya on September 10, 2023, resulting in severe flash flooding, especially in the country’s northeast. The storm brought with it extremely heavy rainfall, leading to catastrophic flooding and a tragic death toll of over 11 000 people, with 10 000 still missing.

Medicane “Marquesa” began as a low-pressure system spinning in the central Mediterranean, causing heavy rains and major flooding in central Greece. By September 8, 2023, it developed a well-organized convective pattern, meeting the criteria for designation as a medistorm. The Mediterranean Cyclone Center (MCC) named the storm Marquesa at 12:00 UTC on the same day.

The cyclone then set its sights on Libya, slowing down and lingering off the Libyan coast on September 9. Satellite data confirmed Marquesa’s landfall just north of Benghazi around 01:30 UTC on September 10, boasting maximum sustained winds of 95 km/h (59 mph) and a central pressure of 995 hPa.

The aftermath was catastrophic. Northeastern Libya, a region that typically sees an average annual rainfall of 25 mm (1 inch), was inundated with up to 406 mm (16 inches) of rain in 24 hours to September 10. During the same period, 240 mm (9.4 inches) of rain fell in Marawah in the District of Jabal al Akhdar, and 170 mm (6.7 inches) fell in Al Abraq in the Derna District. According to figures from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the city of Derna recorded 73 mm (2.9 inches) of rain in 24 hours to September 11.

To put this in perspective, Libya receives an average annual rainfall of about 30 mm (1.18 inches). The wettest months are December, January and February with 13.26 mm (0.5 inches), followed by September, October and November with 8.28 mm (0.3 inches), March, April and May with 7.48 mm (0.29 inches) and June, July and August with 1.83 mm (0.07 inches).

The numbers are quite different when we look at the city of Derna alone — where the average amount of annual precipitation is 332 mm (13.1 inches).

Derna, located in the Cyrenaica Region of northeastern Libya, was the hardest hit, with mudslides affecting thousands of people. In response to the disaster, cities like Benghazi and others in the eastern part of Libya implemented curfews and suspended school activities.

Late Tuesday afternoon, September 12, local officials reported the death toll had reached 5 300. However, thousands more are missing.

According to Libyan Media, the country’s Minister of Health said he expects the number of victims to rise to 10 000 and the missing to reach about 100 000.

Authorities in Libya have estimated that as many as 2 000 people lost their lives in the eastern city of Derna alone. The city has been declared a disaster zone.

Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesman for the country’s armed forces based in the east, attributed the catastrophe to the collapse of two nearby dams, causing a lethal flash flood.

The head of delegation for Libya for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on September 11 that 10 000 people are missing.

While isolated areas of the region are expected to experience moderate rain on September 12, forecasts predict drier conditions for the entire country starting September 13. However, with the magnitude of the devastation, the death toll is anticipated to climb further.

The remnant low of Marquesa is now working its way through Egypt, MCC said at 12:00 UTC on September 11.

“The storm has a well-defined LLCC with some sporadic convection over the Mediterranean Sea, well away from the center. The winds along the coast have died down, and significant impacts are no longer occurring or forecast to occur. Marquesa will open to a trough later today. The storm is still north of most model forecasts, but not quite far enough north to take advantage of the warm Mediterranean waters. With impacts ended and no redevelopment forecast, this is the last advisory.”

Update

September 14

The death toll has surpassed 7 000 people.

In the city of Derna, up to 20 000 people are feared dead after two dams collapsed and destroyed 25% of the city.

September 15

The death toll has surpassed 11 000 and there are more than 10 000 people missing.

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Featured image credit: Libya Al Ahrar TV

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