Morocco, Libya disaster affects students’ families

Samuel Kozlowski & Matilda Harvey

Reporter & Copy Editor

Libya’s city of Derna shown via satellite image before and after the floods. (Plant Labs PBC via AP)

Massive floods and earthquakes in northern Africa have sent shockwaves back to Oklahoma as Moroccan and Libyan students recall the moment they heard about the disasters. 

Storm Daniel is the deadliest storm in Africa since 1900, with over 11,000 people dead, according to EM-DAT, the international disaster database. Despite the current death toll nearly quadrupling the previous most-deadly African storm, Algeria’s November 1927 floods, more than 10,000 people are still missing in Libya.

After a week, emergency response teams are still hard at work, digging for bodies under the rubble of cars, homes and businesses. The World Health Organization dropped off care packages Saturday, enough for about 250,000 people, but with hospitals and medical facilities completely destroyed, dehydration, hunger and water-borne diseases are affecting thousands of local residents. 

Marwa Elgreghi is a sophomore at OU majoring in energy management and minoring in pre-law. She is from Tripoli, the capital city of Libya in the western part of the country. Her parents’ families are from Tripoli, with some extended family in the eastern city of Derna. Elgreghi has family friends who have been affected and even killed by the flooding. 

“Libya is not built for natural disasters,” Elgreghi said, noting the government’s neglect of Derna’s dam system. The city of Derna was the most affected by Storm Daniel. Two dams, Abu Mansour and Derna, were built in the 1970s on Wadi Derna, the river that bisects Derna, to protect the city from flash floods. During the storm, these dams failed, rushing water into the city. In 2022, Abdelwanees A. R. Ashoor of Libya’s Omar Al-Mukhtar University wrote an academic paper on the dangers of the failing dam system in Derna. The description reads, “the results demonstrated that the study area has a high potential for flood risk. Therefore, dams of Wadi Derna basin [need] periodic maintenance.”

“Each building usually has a bunch of families in it. It’d be just like grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, you know, the moms and dads and all the kids. So, the lineage of a family was just swept away. They were all killed by that.” Multiple-century-old houses made from dried mud help regulate the scorching African heat, but their lack of reinforcement made the buildings susceptible to crumbling. Libyan state media said 891 buildings were completely destroyed by the flooding, with 211 buildings partially damaged and 398 buildings submerged in mud.

“We’ve been silenced since day one, since the war that happened in 2011,” Elgreghi said, expressing frustration at a lack of recognition for the people affected by this disaster. Libya experienced a civil war in 2011, something Elgreghi worries is the only piece of information people know about her home country. 

Amid political instability continuing for over a decade in Libya, governments must now solve a brand-new problem, disaster relief. Eastern and western Libya have conflicted in recent years, making the recovery effort even harder for responders.

The Muslim Student Association of UCO in collaboration with the Arab Student Association is holding a bake sale on Tuesday, Sept. 19, and Thursday, Sept 21. The money raised will go to relief efforts in Morocco and Libya.

EDIT 9/21/23 at 12:26PM – The previous edition of this article misidentified Elgreghi as a UCO student.

Share This