By Ebi Kesiena
Following heavy rains in the coastal city of Derna earlier this month, 16 Libyan officials have been detained as part of an investigation into the deadly collapse of two dams that led to the death of thousands of people in the floods.
According to a statement by the Libyan attorney general’s office on Monday, the attorney general noted that it placed the 16 officials under pre-trial detention after interrogations.
Prosecutors are also investigating others connected to the floods, especially anyone who may have benefitted unlawfully from the city’s reconstruction project.
“The investigating authority initiates a criminal case against sixteen officials responsible for managing the country’s dam facilities,” the attorney general’s statement reads.
“A request of an expanded investigation has been issued into the rest of those responsible for the Derna flood incident and others who mismanaged the reconstruction project and obtained illegal revenues because of this misuse,” the statement added.
The coastal city’s mayor and several present and former water infrastructure authorities were among those detained.
Torrential rainfall and the bursting of the dams sent a huge wave of water through Derna on September 10, sweeping entire neighborhoods into the sea. Close to 4,000 people died in Libya’s floods and 9,000 more remain unaccounted for, according to the World Health Organization.
Last week, protests broke out in Derna over the catastrophe, with locals demanding that those in power should be removed.
Warnings About The Dams
According to a research paper published by Libya’s Sebha University last year, Derna is prone to flooding, and its dam reservoirs have caused at least five deadly floods since 1942, the latest of which was in 2011.
The two dams that burst on Monday were built around half a century ago, between 1973 and 1977, by a Yugoslav construction company. The Derna dam is 75 meters (246 feet) high with a storage capacity of 18 million cubic meters (4.76 billion gallons). The second dam, Mansour, is 45 meters (148 feet) high with a capacity of 1.5 million cubic meters (396 million gallons).
Speaking with Al Jazeera, the city’s Deputy Mayor Ahmed Madroud explained that the dams haven’t undergone maintenance since 2002, the problems with the dams were known.
As the Sebha University paper warned that the dams in Derna had a “high potential for flood risk” and that periodic maintenance is needed to avoid “catastrophic” flooding.