Friday 17 January 2020

Aid reaches thousands of homeless in Sierra Leone

A mother who lost her son during the mudslide gets consoled near the entrance of Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo: REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
A mother who lost her son during the mudslide gets consoled near the entrance of Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo: REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Kieran Guilbert

Food aid is reaching thousands who survived a mudslide on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said yesterday, two days after 400 people died and more than 3,000 were left homeless.

Dozens of houses were buried as people slept when a mountainside collapsed in the town of Regent on Monday morning - in one of Africa's deadliest mudslides in decades.

The WFP is distributing two-week rations of rice, grains, oil and salt to at least 7,500 people, including survivors, their hosts, rescue workers and mortuary staff.

"The mudslides have left a path of death and devastation," WFP country director Housainou Taal said in a statement. "We are focusing on the survivors, so they can recover and move ahead."

Rescue teams have raced to dig out survivors and dispose of corpses but the central morgue is overwhelmed, and many bodies are still feared trapped under mud and rubble.

About 400 bodies have been uncovered so far, but that number is likely soon to surpass 500 as the search continues, Freetown's chief coroner Seneh Dumbuya said.

More than 3,000 people have been left homeless and in urgent need of food, shelter and healthcare - while another 600 are missing, the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society said.

Idalia Amaya, an emergency relief co-ordinator for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the chance of finding more survivors is "slim to none".

Charities such as World Vision are providing emergency and hygiene kits to survivors, including water purification tablets to avert dangerous diseases like cholera and typhoid.

Contaminated water and water-logging often unleash such infections after floods and mudslides. The danger is exacerbated by the dozens of corpses lying in the open, in stifling heat, and possibly leaking fluids into waterways.

"We can only hope the rains and flash floods subside, so the current emergency does not turn into a larger catastrophe," said Mr Taal, echoing concerns from several aid agencies about the prospect of more heavy rain falling in the coming days.

The country of six million people is one of the poorest in the world and was ravaged by West Africa's 2014-16 Ebola outbreak, which killed about 4,000 people in the former British colony.

Irish Independent

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