A massive fire tore through the main market in the city of Hargeisa in northern Somalia overnight, injuring about two dozen people and destroying hundreds of businesses, officials said on Saturday.

Images posted on social media showed flames and huge billowing clouds of smoke in the night sky over the city, the capital of the breakaway region of Somaliland.

The cause of the blaze that gutted the sprawling Waheen market — the lifeblood of the city and home to an estimated 2,000 shops and stalls — is not yet known.

Officials said it started on Friday evening but was largely brought under control by dawn on Saturday, although some small areas were still burning.

“The town has never witnessed such a massive calamity,” Hargeisa’s mayor Abdikarim Ahmed Moge told reporters at the scene. 

“This place was the economic centre of Hargeisa and even though the firefighters did their best to contain the fire, the market is destroyed.”

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He said the blaze could have been brought under control before causing such extensive damage but that the firefighters’ efforts were hampered by access problems.

The vast market is a crowded warren of shops and makeshift stalls, with no proper streets, only narrow pathways.

Somaliland president Muse Bihi Abdi said during a visit to Waheen that about 28 people, nine of them women, were injured, but that so far no loss of life had been reported. 

He said the government would be releasing one million dollars to help with the emergency response to the disaster.

Hargeisa Chamber of Commerce chairman Jamal Aideed said the loss of the market was immense as it accounted for 40 to 50 percent of the city’s economy.

“I have lost everything tonight, this fire was the biggest I have ever seen in my life,” said market trader Bashi Ali.

“I had several businesses in the market and all of them burned to ashes. All we can learn from this disaster is to plan the market well,” he added.

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