Somalia's Northeast Coast Struggles in Wake of Tsunami



In Africa, Somalia was hardest hit by the tsunami waves, killing as many as 200 people, injuring more than 150, and displacing thousands. About 30,000 people are in urgent need of food and other aid. Cathy Majtenyi visited the fishing town of Hafun on Somalia's northeastern tip, which suffered some of the greatest damage.

On the day after Christmas, Mechanical Ali, as he was nicknamed, was tinkering with a vehicle in his garage while his wife and small son were in the house.

Suddenly, a giant wall of water appeared. Mechanical Ali ran to the house and clutched his son tightly in his arms. They were both swept away, still holding one another.

His brother, Hassan Mohamed Ali, stands near the pile of rubble where the family's house used to be. With his eyes tearing up, Mr. Ali describes how he rushed over to Mechanical Ali's house to try to save the family.

Mr. Ali says they managed to save Mechanical Ali's wife. They found the mechanic's body two days later. All that was left of the little boy was his hand. The family buried Mechanical Ali next to the hand of his small son.

Meanwhile, further inland, Mahado Mohamed Muse was staring straight ahead and fidgeting as she recalled the terrible split-second choice she had to make about which of her two children she would save.

Her six-year-old son Mahamoud was in bed recovering from an injury while her two-year-old daughter Khadra was playing nearby.

Ms. Muse says she ran with Khadra when the water came, and left Mahamoud. A male relative rescued the boy, who was still alive, but barely breathing. Mahamoud died later that night and was buried the next morning.

Ms. Muse and Mr. Ali are just two of many of Hafun's residents who have harrowing tales to tell of the loss of family and friends, property, and livelihoods.

About 19 people have been confirmed dead and more than 100 are missing in this once-thriving fishing town, which had a population of 4,800 people.

The centuries-old town of Hafun, located on Somalia's northeastern coast, was an important commercial hub in the days of the Italian colonists in the early 1900s. Hafun Mayor Abshir Abdi Tangi says the fishing industry was significant, but now most of the boats and equipment in the town have been destroyed.

He points to the rubble, broken boats, twisted metal, and other debris scattered along the coastline, where he says about 300 shops and businesses used to stand.

Mr. Tangi says the beach area was the town's center, but all is now gone.

When the tsunami waves struck Hafun, most of the townspeople fled into the nearby hills. With the arrival of the World Food Program, the U.N. Children's Agency, and a local aid group called Shilcon, people are slowly moving back into makeshift shelters far from the water's edge.

As they do, there are concerns about fresh-water boreholes contaminated by the seawater, rotting food that is scattered about from the destroyed shops, and weather conditions in the hills taking a toll on peoples' health.

UNICEF-Somalia's education officer, Abdirisak Mohamed Ali, explains.

"They have diarrhea, they have bronchitis, there is high level of malnutrition in pregnant women, children, and all that," he said. "Eye infection is very common now. Those are the main diseases. What we are trying is, actually to avoid a cholera outbreak. We hope before we put [in] the water system that we can avoid the outbreak of cholera in this area."

Mr. Ali says agencies are distributing food, trucking in drinking water from almost 100 kilometers away daily, and rebuilding a water system that was destroyed by the tsunami.

But aid workers and Hafun residents say there are still shortages of medicines, food, water, building materials, and other supplies to recover from the tsunami's devastation.

Mentally and emotionally, the people of Hafun are shell-shocked. The assistant program officer with the World Food Program's Somalia office, Maulid Warfa, explains.

"You talk to people, and then they tell you their stories," he said. "Like, an old man was unable to get that thing out of his mind. He could not get through that his house where he lived [for] 70 years is all of a sudden gone in one day. So, people are stressed, some of them are really depressed, and when you talk to them, they [are] kind of emotional."

But the children of Hafun are making the best of a tragic situation. Using flattened relief food tins and plastic containers, they slide down the slope of the mountain, giggling and shouting, trying to forget the nightmare they have lived.

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