Libya flood disaster survivors tell of miracle escapes

By Ahmed Elumami

DERNA, Libya (Reuters) - Survivors of Libya's deadly flood described a sound like an explosion when a dam burst, a torrent rapidly rising to upper storeys of buildings and escapes across rooftops or treading water for hours in rooms flooded almost to the ceiling.

At the entrance to Derna, in eastern Libya, where a storm swelled a river and burst two dams, sending flood waters crashing through the city early on Monday, a group of survivors stood looking for shelter with their homes destroyed. Many still wore pyjamas and slippers after making sudden, unexpected escapes.

Raja Sassi, 39, survived the flood with his wife and small daughter after water had reached an upper floor, but the rest of his family had died, he said.

"At first we just thought it was heavy rain but at midnight we heard a huge explosion and it was the dam bursting," he said. The city centre was littered with corpses, he said.

His wife Nouriya al-Hasadi, 31, who had clung to her small daughter through their escape, said it was "miraculous" that they had survived.

Safia Mustafa, 41, a mother of two sons, said they managed to flee their home before the building collapsed. They climbed to the roof and escaped across the roofs of neighbouring blocks. Her son, Obai, 10, said he was praying to God for their survival.

Saliha Abu Bakr, a 46-year-old lawyer, said she and her two sisters had survived the disaster, but her mother had died. Water quickly engulfed their building, reaching to the third floor.

The flood waters rushed into their apartment almost up to the ceiling and for what she said felt like three hours she held a piece of furniture trying to stay afloat.

"I can swim, but when I tried to rescue my family I couldn't do anything," she said. The flood waters receded and they left the building shortly before it collapsed with her mother inside.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Derna, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Alex Richardson)