Years of reporting on Libya from afar and a local freelancer’s willingness to travel treacherous roads allowed AP’s team to alert the world about a disaster of massive proportions, after heavy floods burst two dams above the city of Derna, washing away and killing thousands.
It took nearly 24 hours for news to emerge from Libya of the deadly floods. But with the country divided between rival governments with spotty records for accuracy, it was tricky to grasp the extent of the devastation.
When one of the governments reported more than 2,000 dead and counting, Libya video producer Adel Omran was the first to alert the team, after which Cairo reporter Samy Magdy called contacts in the health care and aid community, who confirmed that toll and said it was likely to rise.
Misrata-based freelance photographer Yousef Murad drove hours to the scene, sending an initial dispatch showing mass burials for the rising number of bodies. On the ground, Murad faced difficult conditions and lack of basic amenities as the stench of death overtook the city. His subsequent stories documented the immense recovery effort and the stories of survivors.
Libya, wracked by years of civil war and political strife, is no stranger to death, but the scenes of multistory apartment buildings wiped out by the force of the waters shook Libyans to their core.
Omran, working from Port Said, Egypt, used his numerous contacts to source and permission some of the first aerial video of the decimated urban landscape from a local Libyan channel. Ahmed Hatem, Mohamed Wagdy and Najib Jobain searched for user-generated content, guided by social media and UGC producer Nadia Ahmed in London. Hatem secured a particularly heart-breaking video of a father crying over the body of his child, unearthed from the rubble.
News Director Maggie Hyde and Deputy Middle East News Director Yesica Fisch coordinated a 24-hour operation to make sure the AP was competitive on breaking news in all formats. Cairo photographer Amr Nabil liaised with photographers on the ground who provided aerial views of the destruction.
Along with Murad, Cairo reporter Jack Jeffery and Samy Magdy helped gather accounts of those who had survived. Magdy delved into the years of negligence by the country’s bickering politicians who ignored warnings about the dams’ structural integrity. And Jeffery chronicled how the crisis became a rallying cry for unity among regular Libyans, frustrated by years of political disfunction.
Many aid agencies and other news outlets didn’t pick up on the extent of the disaster until 12–24 hours after our reporting, it was clear that many had been alerted to it thanks to AP’s coverage in that early period.
For their fast and harrowing work revealing a complex story of disaster and recovery, Magdy, Murad and Omran are this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.