Chaotic response to Somali bomb cost lives

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Medics helping victims of a huge bomb explosion in Mogadishu that killed more than 300 people say Somalia’s threadbare emergency services have been pushed beyond their limit.

From a lack of ambulance drivers to breakdowns of ambulances, to checkpoints blocking routes to hospitals, to a shortage of blood the chaotic response to the deadliest truck bombing in Somalia’s history cost additional lives, they said.

Officials said Saturday’s bombing, which also wounded at least 400 people, bore the hallmarks of the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, but the group has not claimed responsibility.

More than three days after the bombing at a busy intersection in the capital, hundreds of people were still searching for relatives in hospitals and trying to access the blast site, Reuters witnesses said.

Dr Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of Aamin Ambulances, a privately-funded ambulance service, described the limitations of his country’s emergency system.
“We have old ambulances and after working 24 hours for days, three broke down. Telephones got jammed and we had no walkie talkies.”

He said roadblocks manned by security forces delayed ambulances and there were not enough medics to respond to the devastating attack.

MIRED IN CONFLICT

Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on each other.

One of the poorest countries in Africa, it faces severe food insecurity and relies on foreign donors to support institutions and basic services.

One ambulance driver said security forces badly hampered efforts at the blast site and even fired at vehicles.

Ambulance driver Mohamed Saiid told Reuters: “I could see people screaming in a burning public vehicle and police opened fire refusing help that could save them.”
“When you want to save a screaming casualty but a soldier denies you access at gun point … it is tough work,” he said.

Delays caused “many injured people to die from blood loss,” he said.

Another ambulance driver said police stopped him entering the blast scene. “I was stopped by forces at gunpoint some metres away from the blast scene,” said Mohamed Howle, a driver from a city hospital.

A spokesman for Mogadishu’s mayor said safety was the top priority in the response and there was no delay in rescuing injured people.

Spokesman Abdifatah Omar Halane said some injured may have died while being carried from the scene: “No one can save the lives of someone whose brain mucus was oozing.”

Police officer Mohamed Hussein told Reuters he was at the blast site several times daily since the bombing and ambulances were not fired upon.

FIRING IN THE AIR

Soldiers often fire in the air to clear traffic jams, he said, suggesting guns may have been discharged by security forces to establish order.

Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman said Somalia does not have a blood bank. Doctors said the public responded quickly to calls for blood donations.

Countries including Turkey, Qatar and Kenya are providing medical assistance and evacuating wounded.
“We are requesting blood. We are requesting assistance for verifying the dead to let relatives know,” the minister said.

Osman said the bodies of more than 100 people buried on Monday “were blown beyond recognition”. He hoped other bodies could be identified.

Mohamed Nur, head of the emergency unit at Medina hospital in Mogadishu said doctors and nurses were working around the clock and the number of casualties overwhelmed the hospital.

Turkish doctors, mainly surgeons and specialists in spine injuries, arrived along with Turkey’s health minister on Monday and were treating injured in local hospitals, the minister said.

Turkey evacuated 35 critically wounded Somalis to Ankara by plane, Turkish deputy prime minister Recep Akdag told reporters on returning from Somalia. An increasingly close ally of Somalia, Turkey opened a $50 million military base in the capital last month.

Medicine from neighbouring nations Djibouti and Kenya arrived by plane on Tuesday, the minister said.



Qatar sent a plane with medical equipment and planned to evacuate injured people for treatment outside Somalia, Qatar’s state news agency reported.