Hundreds feared dead in Sierra Leone mudslide


More than 300 people have been killed in a mudslide in the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital, the Red Cross said Monday, as state TV showed footage of relatives digging through mud in search of their loved ones.

The death toll from massive flooding in the outskirts of Freetown has climbed to “at least 312”, Patrick Massaquoi, a spokesman for the local Red Cross, told AFP.

Massaquoi warned that the toll could rise further as his team continued to survey disaster areas in and around the capital city, where heavy rains have caused homes to disappear under water and triggered a mudslide.

Earlier, Sierra Leone‘s vice-president, Victor Foh, said it was “likely that hundreds are lying dead underneath the rubble,” adding that a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area.

“The disaster is so serious that I myself feel broken,” Foh said. “We’re trying to cordon (off) the area (and) evacuate the people.”

An AFP journalist at the scene saw bodies being carried away and houses submerged in two areas of the city, where roads turned into churning rivers of mud and corpses were washed up on the streets.

Mohamed Sinneh, a morgue technician at Freetown’s Connaught Hospital, said 180 bodies had been received so far at his facility alone, many of them children, leaving no space to lay what he described as the “overwhelming number of dead”.

Many more bodies were taken to private morgues, Sinneh said.

‘We have lost everything’

Sierra Leone’s national television broadcaster interrupted its regular programming to show footage of desperate people trying to retrieve their loved ones’ bodies.

People cried as they looked at the damage under torrential rain, gesturing toward a muddy hillside where dozens of houses used to stand, a witness said.

Fatmata Sesay, who lives on the hilltop area of Juba, said she, her three children and husband were awoken at 4:30 am by rain beating down on the mud house they occupy, which was by then submerged by water.

She managed to escape by climbing onto the roof.

“We have lost everything and we do not have a place to sleep,” she told AFP.

Meanwhile disaster management official Candy Rogers said that “over 2,000 people are homeless,” hinting at the huge humanitarian effort that will be required to deal with the fallout of the flooding in one of Africa’s poorest nations.

Military personnel have been deployed to help in the rescue operation, officials said.

Freetown, an overcrowded coastal city of 1.2 million, is hit each year by flooding during several months of rain that destroys makeshift settlements and raises the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera.

Many of Freetown’s poorest areas are close to sea level and have inadequate drainage systems, exacerbating flooding during the wet season.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP, AP)

Date created : 2017-08-14

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