Monday October 16, 2017

After Mogadishu 'devastated' by attack, Canadian nurse practitioner scrambles to save lives

Hodan Ali, a Somali-Canadian nurse practitioner who has been working in Mogadishu for two years, says nothing prepared her for this  crisis.

Hodan Ali, a Somali-Canadian nurse practitioner who has been working in Mogadishu for two years, says nothing prepared her for this crisis. (Hodan Ali/Twitter)

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Story transcript

Hodan Ali described the scene of Saturday's deadly blast in Mogadishu as "intense and out of reality."

"It was absolutely a nightmare. We couldn't see anything. The smoke, the fire, body parts, the debris — I mean, it's just unbelievable," the Somali-Canadian nurse practitioner told As It Happens host Carol Off.

The truck bombing targeted a crowded street in Somalia's capital city, killing more than 300 people and counting and injuring hundreds more.  

"You couldn't recognize anything. I mean, that's a street we pass by every day and it looked nothing like what I had seen before," Ali said.

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The explosion turned a busy city street into something unrecognizable. (Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)

Ali, a nurse practitioner from Hamilton, Ont., and the medical director of Living Well Somalia, has been working in Mogadishu as a primary care practitioner for the past two years.

She's lived and worked in Mogadishu during other bombings, but nothing she's ever done before prepared her for this. 

"I've never experienced anything like it," she said. "But it wasn't about me. It was about getting those who were affected to hospitals and making sure people didn't die and making sure that we were able to get survivors quick treatment."

That's no easy task in a war-torn country lacking basic medical expertise, supplies and infrastructure, she said.

"You don't know where to start," she said. "Co-ordinating and emergency response was extremely not available and we had to struggle just to establish a chain of command. It took hours."

Hodan Ali

Ali, centre, and her colleagues at work in Mogadishu before Saturday's attack. (Submitted by Hodan Ali )

Mogadishu is no stranger to bombings, but Saturday's attack is the deadliest in Somalia's history, and one of the worst in the world in recent years. 

The government is blaming the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group for the attack, but the group has not commented. 

"Somalia's used to violence and attacks but this was extraordinarily more devastating than anything that anybody in this city has ever experienced," Ali said.

"And people who've lived through the 30 years of civil war were just, just shocked. People couldn't talk. People were just disoriented and devastated."

Hodan Ali

Ali said medical resources are few and far between in Somalia. (Submitted by Hodan Ali )

The country also lacks the resources to treat the wounded, many of whom are being flown to Turkey for treatment, but also the people and equipment to perform DNA tests on the remains, Ali said.

"People turned into charcoal," she said. "I know colleagues who have perished there and their remains are not even present, because of just the impact of the explosion."

Somalia may never known the true death toll from the attack, she said. 

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A severely wounded man from the Mogadishu truck bombing waits inside a Somali ambulance to board a Turkish military plane at the airport on Monday. (Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)

Still, she holds out hope this tragedy will be a wake-up call for Somalia and the world

"The human mind cannot process what has happened in Mogadishu and the world needs to know that this, what has happened in Somalia, Mogadishu, will never be forgotten," she said.

"And I hope this is a turning point for this country to unite against this evil that has wreaked havoc for so many decades."

Death toll moves past 300 in Mogadishu bombing1:26

She is calling on the international community to send aid in the form of doctors, first-responders and other medical experts who can help manage this crisis — and help Somalis develop strategies to deal with future emergencies themselves.  

"This is the time that Somalia actually needs allies and friends to help us move forward," she said. "We cannot export our wounded every time a disaster happens."

— With files from Associated Press