Mogadishu Police Capt. Farah Osman put the death toll at 80. He said an additional 200 people were wounded in the attack, the first of two bombs in the capital Saturday.
The initial vehicle bomb destroyed dozens of stalls and a popular hotel in the heart of Mogadishu.
Qatar's Embassy along the same junction was also severely damaged, according to a statement from its Foreign Affairs. One member of the embassy staff suffered minor injuries, the statement said.
Minutes after the first blast, a second vehicle bomb went off nearby. No casualties have been reported from that second blast, according to police.
There have been no claims of responsibility.
Security forces had been tipped off about the vehicle carrying explosives and were pursuing it in the busy K5 district of the city when the explosion happened, said Col. Ahmed Hassan of the Mogadishu police.
Footage from the scene showed torn-up buildings and a burning truck at the first blast site. A large white building collapsed into rubble and other structures appeared blackened and destroyed.
In other instances, it was hard to determine what was destroyed in the devastated streetscape.
Other videos from the scene posted on social media showed a huge plume of black smoke rising from the blast site.
The UK ambassador to Somalia, David Concar, tweeted that the blast was clearly audible from inside the British Embassy. He also posted a video clip showing thick, dark smoke on the skyline.
Mogadishu, a large city on the east African nation's coast, has endured a lot of violence in recent years.
Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked terror group, has carried out several deadly car bomb attacks in the city this year.
Somalis also face another threat -- starvation.
The country is in the midst of a severe drought and 3.1 million people are threatened by famine because of the food shortages and violence, according to reports from the United Nations this year.
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