Sierra Leone will today bury close to 400 victims of a devastating mudslide and flood that affected a section of the capital, Freetown on Monday.
A correspondent of Reuters in Freetown, said he counted close to 400 corpses at the central morgue today, with 80 of them brought in Tuesday morning.
“Gut-wrenching! Corpses too many to count strewn outside the mortuary which is full to the brim. More than 80 bodies brought in this morning, a source told me. Total nearing 400. They’re being sorted before mass burial starts. Having been doing this for decades, the pathologist Dr Owiz Koroma says never seen anything like this before”, wrote Umaru Fofana, on his Facebook page.
The death toll is expected to be higher as government and the Red Cross said hundreds of people are still missing.
(Also Read: Mudslide buries over 300 in Sierra Leone)
The mudslide and the flood swept away homes overnight on Monday after a downpour.
Police and military personnel were still at the scene in the mountain town of Regent on Tuesday searching for people trapped in the debris.
Many people living at the foot of Mount Sugar Loaf were asleep when the mountainside collapsed, burying dozens of houses, including two-storey buildings, witnesses said.
Standing in the rain, residents sobbed as they mourned family members and waited for news of those missing. Adama Kamara wept as she described a failed attempt to rescue her 7-week-old child.
“We were inside when we heard the mudslide approaching. I attempted to grab my baby but the mud was too fast. She was covered alive,” said Kamara, who escaped with bruises. She said she was not sure what had happened to her husband.
A man said he had left early in the morning to buy bread. When he returned, his wife, children, siblings and in-laws were all dead.
The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are recovered, Red Cross spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said.
Vice President Victor Foh told Reuters at the scene: “It is likely that hundreds are lying dead underneath the rubble.” He said a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area.
“The disaster is so serious that I myself feel broken,” he said. “We’re trying to cordon the area. Evacuate the people.”
An excavator plowed away at the mountainside and ambulances rushed back and forth to the city center with bodies and wounded, but rescue efforts were hampered by bad roads and the weather.
Community chief Fatmata Tarawallie said she had started calling for help at 4 a.m. (0400 GMT) but that it did not come soon enough.
“Now our community has sunk,” she said.
Mudslides and floods are fairly common during the rainy season in West Africa, where deforestation and poor town planning has put residents at risk.