More than 300 people have been killed by a massive truck bomb that tore through a busy shopping district of Mogadishu, the government said Monday, making it the deadliest attack ever to hit Somalia.
The explosion occurred on Saturday afternoon at a junction in Hodan, a bustling commercial district which has many shops, hotels and businesses in the city's northwest.
The devastation caused was widespread. Muhidin Ali, a Mogadishu resident who was close by at the time said it was, "the biggest blast I have ever witnessed, it destroyed the whole area."
Desperate residents of the capital searched for news of missing relatives and friends after the monster explosion destroyed several nearby buildings, leaving victims burned beyond recognition.
"We have confirmed 300 people died in the blast. The death toll will still be higher because some people are still missing," Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of the city's ambulance service, told Reuters on Monday.
But the country's ministry of information confirmed that 276 people were killed in the blast and 300 wounded were admitted at the different hospitals in Mogadishu.
"There is still a national rescue operation" under way, the ministry said in a statement, adding that there would be "national mourning and prayers for the victims" in the coming days.
Police official Ibrahim Mohamed told AFP that many of the victims were "burned beyond recognition" in what he described as "the deadliest attack ever."
The government statement said an emergency center had been set up in the capital for people to seek information abut their loved ones.
"It has been more than 24 hours now and we don't have any traces or information about the sister of my friend, we can assume she is dead with her flesh somewhere amongst the horribly burned dead bodies," said Abdulahi Nuradin, who was helping in the search.
"We went to several hospitals to seek any information but no to avail, the family is now 99 percent convinced she is dead, I saw so many severed pieces of human flesh at the hospitals, you cannot even look at them," he added.
Some of those seriously injured in Saturday's bombing were moved by ambulance to the airport on Monday morning to be flown to Turkey for further treatment, Aden Nur, a doctor at the city's Madina hospital, said.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Shabaab, a militant group aligned with Al-Qaeda, carries out regular suicide bombings in Mogadishu in its bid to overthrow Somalia's internationally-backed government.
Saturday's blast, the worst in Somalia's history, came six years after Shabaab militants were pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union and Somali troops.
While they were also pushed out of major towns across southern Somalia the militants still control rural areas and launch attacks on military, government and civilian targets in Somalia, as well as terrorist raids in neighboring Kenya.