Storm death toll rises to 140 in Somalia's Puntland
BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) - The death toll from a tropical cyclone that hit Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region at the weekend has risen to 140 but the final figure could total 300, the government said on Wednesday.
The government has declared a state of emergency and appealed for international aid to help the tiny Horn of Africa region, which is rich in energy resources and is being sized up by oil explorers.
Weather experts at the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the cyclone, which made landfall on Saturday, was characterized by unusually heavy storms.
Latest rainfall data shows the cyclone has subsided after flooding the coastal town of Eyl, Dangaroyo and the Puntland capital Garowe, though heavy rains are still expected inland.
"So far we have confirmed the storm killed 140 people. We are afraid the death toll may reach 300 because many people are still missing. Roads have been cut and the only access to those areas is by air," Abdullahi Ahmed, Puntland's interior minister, told Reuters late on Tuesday.
The government said it needed clean water, non-perishable foods, medicines, shelter materials and blankets.
Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, whose country is struggling to rebuild after two decades of civil war, has pledged to send $1 million dollars to the storm-hit region.
Puntland said in August it had cut ties with Mogadishu, accusing it of refusing to share power and foreign aid.
The region spans the north of Somalia and has largely escaped the worst of the country's upheaval over the last 20 years. Foreign powers advocating a loose federal political system for Somalia have held Puntland up as a possible model.
The cyclone's heavy torrential rains caused flash floods that led to the loss of about 100,000 livestock and fishing boats that were swept into the Indian Ocean.
The FAO said about 65 percent of Somalia's population depends on livestock, a sector that has seen sharp growth since Arab Gulf States lifted a nine-year ban on Somali livestock exports. Half of these exports pass through the port of Bosasso in Puntland.
Famine has added to Somalia's woes in the last three years.
"Knowing that livestock and fisheries are key livelihood activities in the affected regions, we anticipate the storm to heavily hurt coastal communities," said Rudi Van Aaken, the acting head of FAO in Somalia, pledging help for the survivors.
(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Gareth Jones)