Sierra Leone mudslide: What, where and why?

2017-08-23 12:00
File: AFP

File: AFP

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Freetown - On August 14, a mudslide killed more than 400 people in the mountain town of Regent on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, sweeping away homes and leaving residents desperate for news of missing family members.

Here is what we know about it so far:

What happened and when?

  • A hillside collapsed on Monday at 06:00 local time, causing a mudslide on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown.

  • The mudslide occurred after three days of torrential rain.

  • The mudslide and rain overwhelmed Freetown's drainage system, creating waterways that churned down steep streets across the capital.

  • Mudslides overran several houses killing hundreds of residents, many of whom were trapped inside their homes.

  • Military personnel have been deployed to help rescue those still trapped.

  • According to Sierra Leone's president, an emergency response centre has been established in Regent.  

  • Where did it happen?

    • The flooding took place in the mountain town of Regent, on the outskirts of Freetown.

  • Located about 16km from the capital, the town of roughly one million people sits between the Atlantic Ocean and a range of hills.

  • Many people in Regent live in informal settlements on steep hillsides.

  • Could it have been prevented?

    • A mudslide triggered by torrential floods is typically considered a natural disaster. The uprooting of trees for construction on the hillside is also known to have made the soil unstable and more vulnerable to collapse.

  • Many have questioned why the government has not done more to tackle the illegal construction of the overcrowded hillsides. 

  • In Sierra Leone, storms and torrential downpours are common in August and September. In 2015, floods killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.
  • This year, Sierra Leone has seen 104cm of rain since July 1, which is three times more than expected during the rainy season according to the US National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.

  • Sierra Leone's meteorological department did not issue a warning to hasten evacuations from danger zones before the torrential rainfall between August 11 to August 14, AFP news agency reported.

  • The country's officials have warned against unregulated construction on the hillsides.

  • How many casualties?

    • The death toll has risen to nearly 500. At least 109 children are among those who have been killed. 

  • It is estimated that at least 600 people remain missing.

  • The morgue at Freetown's Connaught Hospital has been so overwhelmed by dead bodies that many of them have been left on the floor for lack of space.

  • Is it safe now? What is the latest on the ground? 

    • Aid agencies have warned that there is a risk of waterborne diseases such as choleraand typhoid spreading as more flooding is expected. 

  • A local state of emergency has been declared.

  • Satellite images show extensive damage, with hundreds of buildings destroyed.

  • About 3,000 people are estimated to be homeless.

  • The Red Cross is struggling to excavate families buried deep in the mud that engulfed their homes.

  • What happened next?

    • On Wednesday, President Ernest Bai Koroma's office promised "dignified burials" in the coming days. 

  • The first of which is expected on Thursday at 3pm local time (15:00 GMT). However, according a local Freetown city council official at least 150 burials took places on Tuesday. 

  • A week-long mourning was declared. 

  • The International Organisation for Migration released $150,000 in emergency funds.

  • The government of Sierra Leone promised relief to thousands of people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and four registration centres.
  • The UN said it was evaluating humanitarian needs in the country and that "contingency plans are being put in place to mitigate any potential outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea", according to spokesman Stephane Dujarric. 

  • Turkey, the UK, Israel and the UAE vowed to send aid, including clean water, medicine and blankets.

  • Read more on:    sierra leone  |  west africa

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