Calgary families impacted by flooding devastation in Libya

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Calgary families impacted by flooding devastation in Libya
WATCH: The catastrophic flooding that swept through Libya continues to claim more lives, impacting people all over the world with connections to the North African community, including in Calgary. Jayme Doll reports. – Sep 14, 2023

Sun spills into the open door leading into the Imam’s office at Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre in northeast Calgary.

Two men are sitting on an overstuffed brown leather couch, their shoes are at the door, their faces sorrowful, their eyes lost.

It’s a long way from the northern Africa nation of Libya, where their hearts, minds and thoughts are focused right now.

“It was a piece of heaven,” said Haten Shedani, who was in Derna, the hardest hit city, just weeks ago.

“When you look at the pictures now it’s just destruction none of it exists anymore…it’s just gone.”

The serene coastal community that stretched beneath the country’s green mountain is now nearly unrecognizable.

Derna is soddened and heavy with mud.  Streets have been rearranged by an unforgiving storm that caused two dams to burst.

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“I cannot even stand watching the videos,” said Mohamed Arhuoma, a Libyan Calgarian.

“It’s really hard and really sad…it’s something I don’t even want to talk about it,” he said bowing his head and his heavy eyes.

The Libyan community in Calgary is in disbelief as they grapple with the enormity of lives lost under collapsed buildings or swept out to sea.

“One friend he lost a grandmother, sisters, brothers, nieces the whole family might be around 50 people, he’s the only one alive,” said Arhouma.

The death toll from the flooding in Libya is massive and continues to grow. As of Thursday afternoon, officials have confirmed the loss of more than 11,300 lives.

Calgary’s Rabah Swaidek is in Libya with her husband and children. They were in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, when the storm hit.

“We’ve lost all ages really, it’s devastating. My dad is heartbroken. He’s in really rough shape, my whole family is, and it’s been really hard to navigate,” Swaidek told Global News.

Between Swaidek and her husband, they have lost 42 family members and several others are still missing.

“We have rescuers who have been digging on the ground. They are finding bodies that are dead or alive. That’s been really challenging, too. So it’s definitely a lot. It’s beyond devastating. I don’t even have the words to describe what we are going through,” she said.

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Swaidek said it’s time for everyone to pull together and help support Libyans. She’s arranging fundraisers back in Calgary from Tripoli, where she awaits word on other missing family members.

Special prayer services are being held for the survivors.

“Grant their family’s the patience, it’s not easy,”  said Imam Jamal Ahmmoud, who says he knows of at least three families in Calgary who have lost loved ones.

In a  country that’s been devastated by war and hardship, it’s not getting any easier and support is needed now more than ever. Calgary’s Libyan community hopes fellow Canadians can open their hearts and help.

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