Libya’s attorney general said Monday he had ordered the detention of eight current and former officials pending his investigation into the collapse of two dams earlier this month, a disaster that sent a meter-high wall of water into the center of a coastal town and left thousands of people dead.
The two dams outside the city of Derna collapsed on September 11 after being overwhelmed by Storm Daniel, which brought heavy rain to eastern Libya. The structural failure flooded as much as a quarter of the city, officials said, destroying entire neighborhoods and sweeping people out to sea.
Government officials and aid agencies have given estimated death tolls ranging from more than 4,000 to more than 11,000. The bodies of many of the dead are still under rubble or in the Mediterranean, according to search teams.
SEARCH scrambles to recover bodies in LIBYA as flood death toll hits 5,100
A statement from the office of the attorney general al-Sidiq al-Sour said prosecutors questioned on Sunday seven former and current officials of the Water Resources Authority and the Fee Management Authority over allegations that mismanagement, negligence and mistakes contributed to the disaster.
The mayor of Derna Abdel-Moneim al-Ghaithi, who was fired after the disaster, was also questioned, the statement said.
The eight former and current officials did not provide evidence to protect them from possible charges, and prosecutors ordered them jailed pending the conclusion of the investigation, the statement added.
The attorney general said eight other officials would be summoned for questioning.
The questioning and jailing of officials was a critical first step by the attorney general in his investigation, which is likely to face daunting challenges due to years of Libya’s divided leadership. Growing calls for an international investigation into the disaster reflect deep public distrust of state institutions.
The oil-rich North African nation has been in chaos since 2011, when a NATO-backed Arab Spring uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. For most of the past decade, rival administrations have vied for power to lead Libya. Dach is supported by armed groups and foreign governments.
The eastern part of the country is under the control of General Khalifa Hifter and his self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, which is allied with a government that has been confirmed by parliament. A rival administration is based in the capital, Tripoli, and enjoys the support of most of the international community.
The dams were built by a Yugoslav construction company in the 1970s over Wadi Derna, a river valley that divides the city. They were intended to protect the city from flash floods, which are not uncommon in the area. The dams were not maintained for decades, despite warnings from scientists that they might burst.
EASTERN LIBYA FEAR 2,000 DEAD AFTER SEVERE FLOODINGODING
A report by a state audit agency in 2021 said the two dams had not been maintained despite more than $2 million being allocated for the purpose in 2012 and 2013.
A Turkish company was commissioned in 2007 to maintain the two dams and build a third between them. The company, Arsel Construction Company Ltd., said on its website that it completed work in November 2012. It did not respond to an email seeking further comment.
Two weeks after the dams collapsed, local and international teams were still digging through mud and buildings to search for victims. They are also combing the Mediterranean Sea off Derna for the bodies of people who were swept away.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
Flood water from the dams damaged up to a third of Derna’s homes and infrastructure, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA. Authorities have evacuated the worst-hit part of the city, leaving only search teams and ambulances, the UN office said.
The World Health Organization says more than 4,000 flood-related deaths have been recorded, but the head of the Libyan Red Crescent previously reported a death toll of 11,300. OCHA says at least 9,000 people are still missing.
The dead in eastern Libya include foreigners living in North African countries.
The storm hit other areas in eastern Libya, including the towns of Bayda, Susa, Marj and Shahatt. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the area and have taken refuge in schools and other government buildings.