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A massive fire destroyed the central market “Waaheen Market” in the capital of Somaliland, wiping out hundreds of small businesses, officials said on Saturday.

Fierce flames tore through Hargeisa’s Waaheen open market late on Friday, sending huge clouds of smoke billowing into the night sky.

The cause of the inferno that engulfed the sprawling market — the economic heart of the city, and home to an estimated 2,000 shops and stalls — is not yet known.

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Officials issued urgent appeals for help to recover from the disaster that injured more than two dozen people and is certain to inflict further hardship on thousands more.

“The town has never witnessed such a massive calamity,” Hargeisa Mayor Abdikarim Ahmed Moge told reporters at the scene.

Firefighters battled the flames for hours before the fire was largely brought under control late at night when many in the city joined Muslims around the world in ushering in the holy month of Ramadan.

Massive Fire Destroys Hargeisa’s Waaheen Market
The fire in Hargeisa destroyed an area of about 99,000 meters, according to Somaliland’s interior minister Photo: AFP / MATAAN YUUSUF

The mayor said the fire could have been contained before causing such extensive damage, but firefighters’ efforts were hampered by problems of access in the crowded warren of makeshift stalls.

Images of the aftermath in and around the market showed charred and blackened buildings with their windows blown out.

Passers-by watched as firefighters turned their hoses on still smoldering structures from streets strewn with rubble.

Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi said about 28 people, nine of them women, were injured, but that there was no loss of life.

He said the government of Somaliland — which declared independence from Somalia four decades ago — would be releasing US$1 million to help with the emergency response.

The leaders of several states including the UK, which once ruled Somaliland, and neighboring Ethiopia, voiced their shock and sympathy over the disaster.

Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known by his nickname Farmajo, also telephoned Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi, his office wrote on Twitter.

“I call on all Somalis wherever they are to extend their assistance to those affected by the disaster,” Farmajo was quoted as saying.

Massive Fire Destroys Hargeisa’s Waaheen Market
The market used to be home to about 2,000 shops and stalls

Hargeisa Chamber of Commerce chairman Jamal Aideed said the loss of the market was immense, as it accounted for 40 to 50 percent of the city’s economy.

“I have lost everything tonight, this fire was the biggest I have ever seen in my life,” said Bashi Ali, a local businessman. “I had several businesses in the market and all of them burned to ashes.”

Hargeisa Councilor Abdirahman Abdi appealed for people everywhere to come to the aid of the devastated city.

“I want to ask everyone who hears of this disaster to help: fire brigades, national armies, media, and the people of Hargeisa,” he said.

British government officials including Prime Minister Boris Johnson voiced sympathy over the disaster in Somaliland.

“We are in close contact with the Somaliland authorities, our international partners and aid agencies operating in-country, and are considering what assistance is needed,” British Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean Vicky Ford wrote on Twitter.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he was “shocked and saddened” by the fire, which caused “incalculable losses.”

The International Organization for Migration in Somalia said the fire had affected thousands of people including migrant workers and pledged to work with the authorities to help people recover.

Hargeisa is also a transit point along migration routes through the Horn of Africa.

Somaliland’s independence is largely unrecognized by the international community, leaving the country of 4.5 million people diplomatically isolated.

Somaliland has remained a comparative beacon of democracy and stability while Somalia has been wracked by decades of political violence.

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