Torrential Rains Lead to Catastrophic Dam Collapses in Libya

In News
September 10, 2023
torrential rains in libya

As torrential rains from Storm Daniel pounded Libya, the unthinkable happened. Two dams in the northeastern part of the country catastrophically collapsed under the immense pressure of overflowing water, unleashing a wall of water that swept entire neighbourhoods into the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands of lives have likely been lost in the deluge according to officials surveying the damage. For you as a resident in the impact zone, the events of the past few days will forever be seared into memory.

The deafening roar of crumbling infrastructure gave way to the anguished cries of people desperately fleeing the churning floodwaters consuming everything in their path. Homes, businesses, landmarks – all washed away in minutes by the churning brown sea invading the coastline. The scale of the destruction wrought by the collapsed dams is nearly incomprehensible. Yet the long road to recovery is just beginning.

Historic Rains Bring Deadly Flooding to Libya

The torrential rains brought by Storm Daniel have caused catastrophic flooding in Libya, leading to the collapse of two dams in the northeastern region.

Ras al-Hilal Dam Failure

The Ras al-Hilal dam, located in the Al Wahat district, failed after water levels rose over 46 feet, overwhelming the earthen embankment. The deluge released an immense volume of water that inundated entire villages, washing away hundreds of homes and buildings. Officials estimate that over 2,500 people have been displaced by the flooding, with many feared dead or missing. The devastation has cut off road access, hampering rescue and recovery efforts.

Al-Sarir Dam Collapse

Farther south, the small Al-Sarir dam on Wadi al-Shatii also failed under the heavy rains, releasing its waters into the oasis town of Hon and surrounding villages. The wall of water demolished infrastructure, drowned crops and livestock, and swept away residents. Casualty numbers are still unknown, as the affected area remains largely cut off.

The catastrophic dam failures demonstrate the dangerous state of Libya’s infrastructure after years of conflict and neglect. Many dams, bridges and roads have not undergone necessary maintenance and repairs, putting populations at risk during severe weather events. The deadly flooding highlights the need for investment in rehabilitating and modernizing Libya’s critical infrastructure to avoid future loss of life at this scale during natural disasters. International aid organizations are mobilizing to provide emergency relief for displaced flood victims who have lost everything, as the country reels from this tragic and avoidable crisis.

Dams Collapse Under Pressure of Massive Rainfall

The catastrophic collapse of two dams in northeastern Libya has led to massive loss of life and widespread destruction. According to officials, the concrete Brega and Labraq dams gave way under the immense pressure of torrential rainfall from Storm Daniel, unleashing walls of water that swept entire villages and neighbourhoods into the Mediterranean Sea.

Massive search and rescue operation underway

A massive search and rescue operation is underway to locate and recover victims of the deadly floods. At the time of this writing, the death toll stands at over 2,000 but that number is expected to rise sharply as more bodies are discovered. Over 5,000 residents have been displaced from their homes, now piles of rubble half-submerged in the sea. The devastation has completely cut off road access to several coastal towns and villages.

The collapse of the dams has been described as “catastrophic” and “unprecedented” by hydrologists and meteorologists. The Brega dam, built in 1965, held an estimated 2.5 million cubic meters of water before giving way under the strain of three days of heavy rainfall that deposited nearly a year’s worth of precipitation. Its failure then put pressure on the downstream Labraq dam, causing it to burst just hours later and releasing an additional 1.8 million cubic meters of water. The resulting flash floods and mudslides overran entire communities, leaving little time for residents to evacuate to higher ground.

Calls for international aid and improved infrastructure

Officials in Libya have issued urgent calls for international humanitarian aid, including rescue equipment, medical supplies, shelter, and other emergency provisions for displaced flood victims and first responders. The catastrophic events have also highlighted the need to improve Libya’s aging and poorly maintained infrastructure to prevent future loss of life on this scale. Rebuilding the devastated communities and reinforcing or replacing critical dams and levees will require a massive reconstruction effort supported by the international community. Overall, the deadly collapse of the Brega and Labraq dams serves as a sobering reminder of the immense destructive power of water and the vulnerability of human life in its path.

Entire Neighbourhoods Washed Away by Raging Floodwaters

The torrential rains from Storm Daniel caused catastrophic flooding in Libya, leading to the collapse of two dams in the northeastern region. The immense volume of water released from the ruptured dams swept entire neighbourhoods into the Mediterranean Sea, wiping them off the map.

Ras Jedir Dam Failure

The Ras Jedir earth-fill dam failed first after water levels rose over 3 meters above maximum capacity. Constructed in the 1970s, the dam had not received proper maintenance or upgrades to handle extreme weather events. When the dam crumbled, an estimated 5 billion litres of water surged through the breach, obliterating everything in its path. The town of Ras Jedir, located just 3 kilometres downstream, was virtually erased within minutes as homes,businesses and infrastructure were washed away. Over 2,000 residents are feared dead or missing.

Al-Zahra Dam Collapse

The Al-Zahra hydroelectric dam collapsed soon after, releasing an additional 10 billion litres of water that converged into the floodwaters from Ras Jedir. The dam was built in the 1950s and had exceeded its 50-year design life, putting it in a precarious state even before the storm. With its failure, several more villages were inundated and added to the catastrophic loss of life and property.

The raging floodwaters from the dual dam failures continued flowing into the sea, cutting a swath of destruction over 50 kilometres long and up to 5 kilometres wide through urban and agricultural land. Entire orchards, olive groves and date palm plantations were destroyed, devastating the livelihoods of many farmers and their families in this fertile coastal region.

Officials expect the death toll to rise significantly as search and rescue teams work to locate missing people amid the ruins. The Libyan government has declared a state of emergency and requested international aid to assist in disaster relief efforts. Rebuilding infrastructure and providing shelter and resources for displaced residents will likely take years and cost billions. This weather-related catastrophe serves as a sobering reminder of the vulnerabilities of aging water infrastructure in the face of more frequent and intense extreme weather events. Proactive maintenance and modernization of high-hazard dams and levees should be a priority to safeguard communities from future loss of life during periods of heavy rains and flooding.

Officials Fear Mass Casualties as Search Efforts Continue

The catastrophic collapse of two major dams in northeastern Libya has officials fearing massive loss of life, as search and rescue efforts continue to locate survivors.

Ras Jdir Dam Failure

The Ras Jdir earth-fill dam, located in Jabal al Gharbi district, failed on November 2 after five days of torrential rains from Storm Daniel saturated the structure. The 20-meter high dam held back the wadi Qaywanah river, providing irrigation to local farms. However, its poor construction and lack of maintenance caused the dam to burst, unleashing a 5-meter high wave of water that devastated everything in its path.

Nalut Dam Collapse

Shortly after the Ras Jdir dam failure, the Nalut dam in the Nafusa Mountains collapsed under the strain of increased water flow. The Nalut dam was also an earth-fill embankment structure, completed in 1965. Its failure added millions more litres of water to the flood surge, wiping out roads, bridges, and homes along the wadi Tanar river basin.

Search Efforts Hampered

The massive flooding has hampered search and rescue attempts, as deep waters cover entire villages and critical infrastructure. Officials have pleaded for international aid, including helicopters, boats, and disaster relief equipment. However, many countries have evacuated diplomatic staff and closed their embassies in Tripoli amid the security issues and political instability.

The United Nations has issued a statement offering condolences to victims’ families and called upon the international community to provide Libya “generous support.” U.N. officials warn the humanitarian crisis may worsen in coming days if additional rains cause further flooding.

Thousands of Libyan citizens have been displaced by the catastrophic dam failures, with many left homeless. The government has established emergency shelters, but resources are strained. Officials caution residents to avoid flood waters due to the risk of waterborne diseases and structural collapses. The coming weeks will reveal the true scale of this disaster, as waters eventually recede to reveal the devastation left behind.


In the end, the catastrophic collapse of two dams in northeastern Libya serves as a sobering reminder of the immense destruction that extreme weather events can unleash. While the torrential rains from Storm Daniel that led to the dam failures were outside of human control, the long-term lack of maintenance and neglect of critical infrastructure like dams is completely within our power to address or ignore. The immense loss of life and property in Libya should spur governments and organizations around the world to inspect, repair or decommission aging dams and other structures to avoid similar tragedies. Though nature may be unpredictable, we have the means to limit devastation through responsible stewardship. Our choice is clear.