Fears for 600 still missing in Sierra Leone floods

2017-08-16 19:36
Picture: AFP

Picture: AFP

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3000 displaced following Sierra Leone flash flood

2017-08-16 10:28

Emergency services have been deployed as rescue efforts continue in Sierra Leone, following a flash flood and mudslides early on Monday. WATCH

Freetown  - Concerns shifted on Wednesday to the estimated 600 people still missing and thousands made homeless in Sierra Leone by deadly floods in the capital, as it emerged that at least a third of those killed were children.

The United Nations said on Tuesday that it was evaluating humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone, while the first Israeli aid packages were sent and Britain pledged its support.

Officials at Freetown's central morgue said 105 of the more than 300 officially dead were children, and burials began on Tuesday for some of the bodies too mutilated to identify. An independent but unofficial morgue estimate put the toll at 400 dead.

President Ernest Bai Koroma fought back tears on Tuesday as he visited the devastated hilltop community of Regent, saying the scale of the challenge ahead was "overwhelming us".

"Entire communities have been wiped out," Koroma said. "We need urgent support now."

The government of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has promised relief to what the Red Cross says is more than 3 000 people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and registration centres to count those left on the streets.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in New York that the UN country team was "supporting national authorities in rescue operations, helping evacuate residents, providing medical assistance to the injured, registering survivors, and providing food rations, water and dignity kits to those affected."

From shock to anger 

Speaking to AFP at the mortuary at the Connaught Hospital, technician Mohamed Sinneh Kamara said his team lacked equipment to process and identify the bodies piling up.

"We have logistical constraints including a lack of gloves, PPE (personal protective equipment) and rain boots," he said as families gathered to identify their loved ones' bodies.

Mabinty Sesay's family had gone to Regent for an all-night prayer session when the church was buried in the mudslide. "I have lost 13 of my family members but was only able to identify two," she told AFP at the morgue.

One woman collapsed after seeing her husband's dead body among the piles of corpses, amid a powerful stench of decomposing flesh.

Adele Fox, national health coordinator for Sierra Leone for the charity Concern Worldwide, told AFP that the search for bodies continued but that survivors were facing difficult conditions.

"There is basic need for food, water, sanitation equipment and medical assistance. Since it is still the rainy season, further flooding is also a possibility," she warned.

The sentiment among those in the disaster areas had shifted from shock and grief to anger at what is an annual problem in Freetown, though never before on this scale.

"There is some frustration over the regularity of flooding and destruction during the rainy season and its effects," Fox said.

'Wake-up call' 

Society 4 Climate Change Communication (S4CCC), a local environment group, has called the tragedy a "wake-up call".

Deforestation, a lack of urban planning and vulnerability to climate change had all played a part, it said.

The UN said contingency plans were being put into place in case of an outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea, as dirty water stagnates in the streets.

Many homes are now without a water supply due to damage to a reservoir near Regent, according to the Guma Valley Water Company.

Sulaiman Zaino Parker, an official with Freetown's city council, said that 150 burials took place on Tuesday evening and that many victims would be laid to rest in graves alongside those of the country's last humanitarian disaster, the Ebola crisis, in nearby Waterloo.

"We have started burying some of the mutilated and decomposed bodies. All the corpses will be given a dignified burial with Muslim and Christian prayers," Parker said.

The graves would be specially marked for future identification, he added.

The Vatican said in a statement that Pope Francis "prays for all who have died, and upon their grieving families and friends he invokes the divine blessings of strength and consolation."

Guinean President Alpha Conde visited in solidarity with Sierra Leone on Tuesday and was galvanising aid from west African nations, his aide Naby Youssouf Kiridi Bangoura told AFP.

Three days of torrential rain culminated on Monday in the Regent mudslide and torrential flooding elsewhere in the city, one of the world's wettest urban areas.

Freetown is hit each year by flooding during several months of rain, and in 2015 bad weather killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.

Sierra Leone ranked 179th out of 188 countries on the UN Development Programme's 2016 Human Development Index, a basket of data combining life expectancy, education and income and other factors.

Read more on:    sierra leone  |  west africa

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