A huge fire destroyed the central market in the capital of the breakaway Somali region of Somaliland, officials said Saturday.
Fierce flames tore through the Waheen market in Hargeisa late on Friday, sending huge clouds of smoke billowing into the night sky.
Firefighters took several hours to bring the fire under control, and officials said they didn't know what caused the inferno.
More than two dozen people were injured, but no one died, officials said.
Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi visited the scene on Saturday, saying that 28 people, including nine women, were injured.
President vows emergency funds
He said his government would release $1 million (€0.91 million) to help with the emergency response to the blaze.
Hargeisa's mayor Abdikarim Ahmed Moge said the town has "never witnessed such a massive calamity," and made an urgent appeal for help.
"This place was the economic center of Hargeisa and even though the firefighters did their best to contain the fire, the market is destroyed," he added.
Hargeisa Chamber of Commerce chairman Jamal Aideed said the loss of the market was immense as it accounted for 40 to 50% of the city's economy with around 2,000 stores.
Messages of support from neighbors, Britain
The leaders of several countries, including Britain, which once ruled Somaliland, and neighboring Ethiopia, voiced their shock and sympathy over the disaster.
"Saddened to see the aftermath of the fire in Hargeisa with such destruction in the open market that is the economic heart of the city," said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. "Your city will rise again and the UK will do what we can to support Somaliland's rebuilding effort."
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he was "shocked and saddened" by the blaze that he said had caused "incalculable losses."
Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed telephoned his Somaliland counterpart to discuss the damage wrought by the fire, his office said on Twitter.
Thousands lost livelihoods
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Somalia said the blaze had affected thousands of people, including migrant workers and pledged to work with the authorities to help people recover.
Hargeisa, a trading and watering hub, is also a transit point along a people-smuggling route through the Horn of Africa and many migrants wind up stranded there.
Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but is not recognized as a state by the international community.
Despite this, the region of 3 million people has maintained its own independent government, currency and security system.
Somaliland has largely succeeded in holding regular elections over the years, including parliamentary polls held last year.
mm/sms (AFP, dpa)