Al Jazeera Close Up

I’m searching for my missing family after Libya’s floods | Close Up

“At 3am I heard a sound, it was like the sound of an engine … I went outside and there was someone coming towards me, barefoot, holding a torch,” recounts Abubaker Almortadha al-Jazwi, as he describes the moment he realised something happened to his hometown of Derna, in eastern Libya.

“I said [to the man] ‘What’s wrong, son? What’s wrong?’ And he told me the street is covered in water. There are injured people and dead bodies everywhere,” adds the 61-year-old agricultural engineer.

On September 10th,  heavy rains from storm Daniel triggered the collapse of two dams, unleashing a deadly torrent that swept away residential neighbourhoods and drowned families in just a few minutes. Abubaker Almortadha al-Jazwi was one of the lucky ones: Of Derna’s 10 geographic districts, just three survived the flooding and 20,000 people are now feared dead.

The disaster struck a country that has been beset by chaos since long-serving ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in October 2011. Since then, the country has been divided between two rival governments: a UN-recognised administration in Tripoli, Libya’s capital in the west, and another in the disaster-stricken east, backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar. The conflict between these two factions, and a lack of central authority, has impeded efforts to save residents.

As rescue teams scramble to find survivors and bodies pile up in the streets of Derna, al-Jawzi embarks on his own quest to find his five cousins who have all gone missing.  This is an intimate film that depicts the trauma and triumph of the human spirit.


Director: Shelby Ben Brahim

Cinematographer: Abdelbasset Fitouri

Editor: Shelby Ben Brahim

Assistant Editor: Antonia Perello

Colorist: Catherine Hallinan

Producer: Antonia Perello

Senior Editor: Donald Cameron

Executive Producer: Tierney Bonini