MN: In Bridge Collapse, Refugees Face New Ordeal


MN: IN BRIDGE COLLAPSE, REFUGEE GROUP FACES A NEW ORDEAL

Among the hardest hit in the bridge collapse last week was a group that had survived war and strife in their homeland, Somalia, and a move across the world to settle here.

Steps from the bridge, in the spice-scented groceries and other stores in the neighborhood of Somalis along Cedar Avenue South, the toll of the collapse was inescapable.

At least two Somalis were injured in cars, and one, bruised and shaken, returned to the neighborhood on Tuesday, recounting his ordeal. Other young Somalis were among those who survived when the school bus they were riding in dropped.

Sadiya Sahal, 23, a pregnant Somali nursing student, and her toddler daughter remained missing in the Mississippi, among the eight people whom divers continued to look for.

''Somalis have been through war, drama and cultural shock before,'' said Saeed Fahia, director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. ''For many, this incident has triggered those bad memories once more. There's this sense of anxiety, a sense that bad things follow me to America.''

Minnesota claims the largest Somali population in the country. They began arriving as refugees fleeing civil war in the 1990s.

Estimates of their current numbers and the numbers of American-born offspring vary widely, even among community leaders. Census figures from 2000 showed that 11,000 people of Somali ancestry lived in Minnesota.

Community leaders, citing a rush of recent arrivals, say tens of thousands more may be here, with thousands clustered in the neighborhood of Somali shops and subsidized high-rise housing beside the Interstate 35W bridge downtown.

To this community, the bridge was a constant, always in view, the route for every trip, a landmark of home. ''This was a very important bridge to everyone in this city of course, but also to us,'' a resident, Miski Abdulle, said. ''We are all in mourning.''

Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in the House of Representatives, met Ms. Sahal's father here. Mr. Ellison described the bridge as central for Somalis.

Religious tradition and Somali culture call for prompt burial of the dead, a fact that added strain to the days of waiting for the authorities to find Ms. Sahal and her daughter Hana.

 


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