At least 300 dead in Sierra Leone mud­slides and flood­ing

South Florida Times - - NATION - By CLARENCE ROY-MACAU­LAY

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - Mud­slides and tor­ren­tial flood­ing killed more than 300 peo­ple in and around Sierra Leone's cap­i­tal early Mon­day fol­low­ing heavy rains, with many vic­tims trapped in homes buried un­der tons of mud.

Sur­vivors and vol­un­teers dug through the mud and de­bris at times with their bare hands in a des­per­ate search for miss­ing rel­a­tives, and mil­i­tary per­son­nel were de­ployed to help with the res­cue op­er­a­tion in the West African na­tion.

Sierra Leone's na­tional broad­caster an­nounced late Mon­day that the death toll had risen above 300. Ini­tial Red Cross es­ti­mates said as many as 3,000 peo­ple were left home­less by the dis­as­ter and that fig­ure was ex­pected to rise. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and elec­tric­ity also were af­fected.

The mor­tu­ary at Con­naught Hos­pi­tal was over­whelmed by the num­ber of dead, and bod­ies had to be spread out on the floor, coroner's tech­ni­cian Sin­neh Ka­mara said. The toll did not in­clude the un­told num­bers buried alive in their homes as they slept. More bod­ies also were ex­pected to be found as flood­wa­ters re­ceded.

In an in­ter­view with the Sierra Leone Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Corp., Ka­mara urged the health depart­ment to de­ploy more am­bu­lances to bol­ster the four be­long­ing to the hos­pi­tal.

The broad­caster in­ter­rupted reg­u­lar pro­gram­ming to show scenes of peo­ple try­ing to re­trieve the bod­ies of rel­a­tives, and some were shown car­ry­ing the dead to the morgue in rice sacks.

The pres­i­dent's of­fice re­leased a state­ment en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to re­lo­cate to safer parts of Freetown and sign up at reg­is­tra­tion cen­ters. The of­fice made no men­tion of the death toll.

“The gov­ern­ment is fully seized of the sit­u­a­tion and in col­lab­o­ra­tion with our de­vel­op­ment part­ners, is un­der­tak­ing a co­or­di­nated re­sponse to pro­vide emer­gency ser­vices to our af­fected com­pa­tri­ots,'' it said.

One par­tic­u­larly hard-hit area was the sub­urb of Re­gent, lo­cated east of Freetown.

“The mud­slide swept down from the hills on the out­skirts of Freetown early this morn­ing and spared noth­ing in its path,'' said Sasha Ekanayake, the Sierra Leone di­rec­tor for the char­ity Save the Chil­dren. “Houses are buried and en­tire fam­i­lies are miss­ing, in­clud­ing chil­dren.''

Homes were de­stroyed by the flood­ing, while oth­ers were in­un­dated by the floods, leav­ing many with­out shel­ter, Ekanayake said, adding that some chil­dren have been sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies.

“In places, en­tire com­mu­ni­ties seem to have been washed away and what­ever is left is cov­ered in mud,'' said Ab­dul Nasir, pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor for the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Red Cross and Red Crescent So­ci­eties.

He said Red Cross vol­un­teers have been dig­ging with their bare hands and what­ever tools avail­able to search for sur­vivors.

“They are also car­ing for and help­ing fam­ily mem­bers who are des­per­ately wait­ing for news of their loved ones,'' Nasir said.

Many of the im­pov­er­ished ar­eas of Sierra Leone's cap­i­tal are close to sea level and have poor drainage sys­tems, ex­ac­er­bat­ing flood­ing dur­ing the rainy sea­son.

Freetown also is plagued by un­reg­u­lated build­ing of large res­i­den­tial houses in hill­top ar­eas.

De­for­esta­tion for fire­wood and char­coal is one of the lead­ing fac­tors of wors­en­ing flood­ing and mud­slides. Freetown's drainage chan­nels also are of­ten clogged be­cause of garbage dump­ing due to in­suf­fi­cient san­i­ta­tion ser­vices in many ar­eas.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF TOWNHALL.COM

At least 300 dead in Sierra Leone mud­slides and flood­ing.

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