Somalis Lose Everything in Tsunami

More than a decade ago, Norta Ibrahim Mudey fled the violent anarchy of Mogadishu for the sanctuary of this remote fishing village on the far northeastern coast of Somalia (search). But her newfound peace was shattered the day giant waves raced across the ocean from Asia.

Somalis who for years have been battered by war and drought thought they knew devastation. Then came the Dec. 26 tsunami (search).

"I have seen death and destruction in the civil war, but nothing like this," said Mudey, a diminutive woman wrapped in a veil, squatting in front of a shack patched together with rusting metal sheeting and a bright pink cloth.

Mudey's husband and six-month-old child were swept to sea. Only her husband's body was returned to her.

Humanitarian workers estimate that at least 100 families who'd moved here to escape clan fighting in Somalia's interior lost everything when the tsunami struck. Other families devastated by the natural disaster had moved here to escape drought or were simply in search of a better life.

The waves lashed 400 miles of coastline. Estimates of the number killed range from 100 to 300, with thousands of others affected.

The Horn of Africa country has been without an effective central government since opposition leaders united to oust dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The leaders then turned their guns on one other, carving the nation of 7 million into battling fiefdoms ruled by clan-based factions.

The conflict has left more than 500,000 people dead, about 400,000 driven from their homes and more than 350,000 refugees in neighboring countries, according to the United Nations and aid agencies.

A new government, formed after two years of negotiations between warlords, clan leaders and civil society representatives, is currently based in Kenya because it considers Somalia unsafe.

But the northeastern region of Puntland set up an autonomous administration and has had been relatively calm the last 14 years.

When Mogadishu succumbed to dueling warlords, thousands sought safety among clansmen in other parts of the country. Salah Bashir was among them.

"In Mogadishu, if you earn anything, it will just be taken by the militias," said the 30-year-old builder, whose uncle and nephew were killed by stray bullets.

Mudey and her husband Ali, a mechanic, also joined the fleeing throngs.

"I have seen people injured and killed, people looting, and people running from the bombs," Mudey said wearily.

Their first stop was the bustling northern port city of Bossaso. But Mudey's husband soon learned that the people of Hafun were looking for someone to repair their fishing boats engines. He was the village's only mechanic and quickly prospered.

The family had a two-room house at the water's edge. They bought a television and satellite dish. And they supported a host of relatives and friends.

Then the waves came.

"The sea took everything," Mudey said — house, savings, tools and belongings.

She and her husband had just sat down to lunch when the first wave crashed through their home. Mudey grabbed their 6-month-old infant and started strapping the boy to her back, but the next wave tore the child from her hands. She and her husband were swept out to sea.

Mudey survived by grabbing hold of the ruins of a jetty — built by the country's former Italian rulers and bombed by the British during World War II.

Two days later, her husband's body washed ashore, but her baby was never found. Their three other children were out with an aunt when the disaster happened and escaped unharmed.

Convinced the tsunami would strike again, her husband's aging mother took the children back to Bossaso. Mudey stayed behind in an improvised shack, so as not to miss out on any international assistance for the village.

Bashir, who found Ali's body, is thinking about moving to Yemen.

"I thought I could make a life here," he said. "But now we are running again."