Wednesday 21 March 2018

Mudslide death toll reaches 400 as thousands are left homeless

Volunteers search for bodies after mudslides in Regent, just outside of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Photo: Manika Kamara/AP
Volunteers search for bodies after mudslides in Regent, just outside of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Photo: Manika Kamara/AP

Kieran Guilbert

Thousands of people in Sierra Leone have been left homeless by a devastating mudslide that killed at least 400 people.

The survivors urgently need food, shelter and healthcare as aid agencies race to prevent outbreaks of fatal diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

A mountainside collapsed on Monday morning in Regent, on the outskirts of the capital Freetown, burying dozens of homes as people slept, in one of Africa's deadliest mudslides in decades.

Rescue workers have uncovered nearly 400 bodies, Freetown's chief coroner Seneh Dumbuya said. He expected that number to surpass 500 as the search continues.

"We estimate that at least 3,000 people are homeless... they need shelter, medical assistance and food," said Sierra Red Cross Society spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie.

Another 600 people are estimated to be missing, according to the Red Cross.

"We are also fearful of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid," Mr Tarawallie said. "We can only hope that this does not happen."

Contaminated water and water-logging often unleash potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhoea after floods and mudslides.

Torrential flooding had also destroyed buildings and covered homes in low-lying areas of Freetown, agencies said.

"Houses have been totally submerged and washed away," said Ramatu Jalloh, advocacy director at Save the Children. "Families are trying to gather their lives together but they have lost their homes, all of their possessions, their whole livelihoods."

President Ernest Bai Koroma told residents of Regent and other flooded areas to evacuate immediately so that military personnel and rescue workers could continue to search for survivors that might be buried underneath debris.

The United Nations children's agency Unicef is providing trauma counselling and therapy to families and children in the dozen-odd communities struck by the mudslide.

"You can see people openly grieving... there is a lot of hurt to address," said Unicef spokesman John James.

Britain's aid department is sending assistance, having invested in disaster preparedness and emergency response since the Ebola outbreak which ravaged the former British colony from 2014 to 2016, killing 4,000.

Several aid agencies said they were bracing for more heavy rainfall in the coming days.

Irish Independent

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