Sierra Leone’s leader desperately appeals for help after floods and mudslides kill hundreds

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 6:06am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 6:06am

Sierra Leone’s president issued a desperate appeal for help on Tuesday, a day after flooding ravaged the country’s capital, killing more than 300 people and leaving hundreds more missing.

Touring Regent, one of the worst-hit areas, President Ernest Bai Koroma fought back tears as he said the devastation was “overwhelming us”.

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

As the city began to bury its dead, foreign governments began mobilising aid, with Israel pledging to help provide clean water, medicines and blankets and other essentials. British International Development Secretary Priti Patel said she was working with the Sierra Leone government to establish what steps to take.

Heavy rains streaming down a hill in Regent triggered a landslide that engulfed homes three or four storeys high, many of them built illegally.

Koroma toured the Connaught hospital and central morgue, which have been overwhelmed with bodies.

Sierra Leone mudslide and flooding leave hundreds dead as morgues struggle with overwhelming number of corpses

The government of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has promised relief to more than 3,000 people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and four registration centres. The Red Cross said 600 people were still missing.

Red Cross official Nasir Khan said the death toll was around 300 on Tuesday evening, but a separate morgue assessment put the figure at 400.

Sulaiman Zaino Parker, an official with Freetown’s city council, said 150 burials took place on Tuesday evening and that many would be laid to rest in graves alongside victims 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 Red Cross said it was struggling to excavate families buried deep in the mud that engulfed their homes, though several bodies were pulled up by diggers in the devastated hilltop community of Regent on Tuesday.

“We are racing against time, more flooding and the risk of disease to help these affected communities survive and cope with their loss,” said Abu Bakarr Tarawallie, another Red Cross official.

Deputy health minister Madina Rahman said contaminated water meant the city was now bracing for a possible cholera outbreak.

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