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Getting Help for Somalia Tsunami Victims

The death toll in the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster has now passed 220,000 after Indonesia increased the number of known dead there. The tsunami hit the coast of Africa as well as several Asian nations. Some 30,000 people along Somalia's coast need help.

Hafun, a fishing town near the northeastern tip of Somalia, was hit particularly hard by the tsunami. VOA's Cathy Majtenyi looks at the losses suffered by the people of Hafun and efforts to improve their situation.

Twenty-year-old Mahado Mohamed Muse has had to make a choice that no mother should ever be forced to make. She, her two-year-old daughter Khadra, and her six-year-old son Mahamoud, who was in bed recovering from an injury, were in their beachfront home December 26th when a wall of water appeared from nowhere. In the blink of an eye, Ms. Muse knew that she was unable to carry both of her children to safety. She scooped up little Khadra, and ran for their lives.

Their home and all of their belongings were completely washed away. She says, "The water came in straight at us. I ran with my girl and I left the boy. Out there, the man who picked up the boy came to me and I told him what happened. He rushed back and brought the boy. By the time he brought the boy, the boy was alive, but he was not really moving. Then he died that night and we buried him first thing in the morning."

Forty-year-old fisherman Mahamoud Mohamed Awad had a thriving lobster business before the tsunami wiped out two of his four boats and most of his machines and nets. "Before the tsunami, I had a good business in place. I had boats and I had stores in town. The tsunami came in and destroyed my boats, destroyed my stores, destroyed everything I had. I lost about two metric tons of lobsters - it's estimated to be $50,000 U.S. I think we are now in need of aid from the world,” he said.

Mr. Awad and Ms. Musa are two of many people in Hafun whose lives were changed forever the day the tsunami came. In total, 19 people in Hafun were killed and more than 100 are still missing.

Much of Hafun, once a bustling fishing town in northeastern Somalia, has been reduced to rubble. There are signs of the ocean's violence everywhere.

Abshir Abdi Tangi is the mayor of Hafun, home to some 4,800 people. He says about 300 of the town's shops and businesses have been wiped out. "There were low-cost and modest houses all along the coast. All of them have gone - all of them have been destroyed by the sea. This area was overpopulated," he said. When the tsunami waves struck Hafun, most of the townspeople fled into the nearby hills.

With the arrival of the World Food Program, the United Nations' children's agency, and a local aid group called Shileon, people are starting to move back into makeshift shelters on the edge of town, far away from the water. Aid workers and townspeople face enormous challenges as they set out to rebuild Hafun. There are concerns about fresh water contaminated by the tsunami, rotting food that is scattered about, and weather conditions in the hills are taking their toll on people's health.

Fatima Mohamed Ali is the head nurse at Hafun's clinic. She says up to 200 still-shocked and traumatized people seek treatment at the clinic each day. "After the tsunami, the people got many pains - glaucoma, bloody diarrhea, skin diseases. Some people have swollen feet, some people have dysentery. There is a very strong wind, some people got bronchitis. Some people have asthma. We don't have enough medicine to treat them."

Efforts are being made to address the causes of health problems. UNICEF and the local agency Shilcon are digging boreholes where people can get fresh drinking water, and will continue trucking in fresh water from almost 100 kilometers away. They built some 30 latrines throughout the town, and plan to set up a water system.

The World Food Program has distributed 83 metric tons of food to Hafun since the tsunami struck. And the town is slowly being cleaned up. The Somali Red Crescent Society has been called in to clear away the debris left by the waves. But aid officials and Hafun residents say that much more help is needed.

Mayor Tangi express the need for relief. He says, "They need shelter, they need fishing materials to work, they need food, they need nursing. They need everything. I appeal to the international community to support these people."

Meanwhile, Hafun's children are making the best of a tragic situation. Using flattened relief food tins or plastic containers, they slide down the mountain, trying to forget the nightmare.