Under-reported: Sierra Leone's overflowing morgues

2017-08-25 11:01
Picture: AFP

Picture: AFP

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Freetown - Walking into my hotel three days after the August 14 mudslides, I arrived to the sight of foreign news crews packing up their bags and heading for the airport. "The story is over," said one British journalist looking down at his phone in the hotel's lobby as he exhaled huge clouds of white and thick cigarette smoke.

"There's been a terrorist attack in Barcelona ... it's time to move on," he said.

Fifteen would die in the Barcelona attacks.

Around 500 had died in Freetown.

As the day progressed, I visited a cemetary an hour's drive from the capital where bodies were being dumped in mass graves.

Sierra Leone's president gave a moving and impassioned speech to dignitaries and the foreign press but few survivors could afford the bus fare to the memorial service with most still at the site of the landslide, searching through the rubble and calling out the names of missing loved ones.

The overflowing morgue at the cemetery took me back to the 2014 Ebola outbreak when around 4,000 people died from the virus.

And as I made my way through the capital's muddy roads to Sugar Loaf Hill or rather what's left of it, I saw emergency teams working through incredible debris, searching under steep cliffs of mud hanging ominously above.

Their boots were sinking knee deep as if they were walking in snow - at which point it was clear - there was no chance of finding anyone alive.

As I walked with the rescuers I had a chance to experience first hand the magnitude of their task.

The downpour had slowed each of our steps as the mud turned into quicksand.

Climbing through the debris I saw the remains of what life in this bustling city was once like: a copy of a child's maths homework, a pair of flip flops, an old record, family pictures.

Emergency workers were using shovels, pic axes, and shouting across to each other when they found something.

There were no sniffer dogs, or fiber optic cameras usually used in disasters like this, rather, the emergency teams would only start digging when they smelt a decomposing body.

Read more on:    sierra leone  |  west africa

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