As many as 300 people are feared dead after a ferocious storm and days of heavy floods in Somalia’s northeastern Puntland region, the local government said Wednesday.
“Torrential rains, high wind speeds and flooding has created a state of emergency, with 300 persons feared dead, hundreds others unaccounted for, and countless livestock lost,” the government of the semi-autonomous region said in a statement.
The death toll could not be independently verified, but weather experts from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) confirmed flooding was severe.
“Given that Puntland is a semi-arid region, it rarely rains but when it does, to an extent we have seen… the impact is devastating,” said Hussein Gadain, a senior FAO technical advisor.
Infamous pirate hotspots such as the port of Eyl – from where Somali gunmen have launched attacks far out into the Indian Ocean – are some of the worst affected.
Many fishermen are missing and feared dead, the storm has destroyed entire villages, homes, buildings, and boats,” the statement added.
Coastal destruction caused by a 2004 tsunami was widely seen as being one trigger for a surge in attacks off Somalia, peaking in January 2011 when the pirates held 736 hostages and 32 boats.
However, the rate of attacks has tumbled in the past two years, prompted partly by the posting of armed guards on boats and navy patrols.
Pirates still hold an Omani-flagged Naham 3 fishing boat offshore, as well as at least six traditional wooden Yemeni fishing boats, although around 90 sailors from other boats are still held hostage onshore.
Puntland’s government has described the situation as a “disaster”, with entire villages destroyed, and said it was appealing for emergency international aid.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said it is “working closely” with local authorities “to assess the needs in Puntland in the aftermath of the cyclone.”
The main tarmac road between Puntland’s capital Garowe and the key port Bossaso has been cut off by flood waters, hampering delivering of relief supplies.
“The loaded and ready trucks cannot deliver supplies by road, as the heavy rains and flooding have rendered dirt roads to the coastal areas impassable,” the government added.
Somalia has been riven by civil war since the collapse of central government in 1991.
Impoverished Puntland, which forms the tip of the Horn of Africa, has its own government, although unlike neighbouring Somaliland, it has not declared independence from Somalia.