Tuesday 17 October 2017

At least 312 dead after Sierra Leone mudslide

At least 312 dead after Sierra Leone mudslide
(The Guardian 08/14/17)
At least 312 dead after Sierra Leone mudslide

More than 2,000 estimated homeless as mudslide on outskirts of capital Freetown submerges houses and turns streets into churning rivers.

Hundreds of people are thought to have been killed in a mudslide on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

A hillside in Regent, a mountainous town 15 miles east of Freetown, collapsed in the early hours of Monday morning after heavy rains, leaving hundreds of people trapped. Morgues in the capital have been overwhelmed with bodies, while relatives have been left to dig through the mud in search of their loved ones’ remains.

Death tolls are unconfirmed, though the International Federation of Red Cross reports that 312 have been killed, and more than 1,000 affected. Disaster officials in Sierra Leone have estimated 2,000 people have been left homeless.

“It is likely that hundreds are lying dead underneath the rubble,” Victor Foh, the country’s vice president, told Reuters at the scene of the mudslide in Regent, adding that a number of buildings had been erected illegally in the area.

“The disaster is so serious that I myself feel broken,” he added. “We’re trying to cordon [off] the area [and] evacuate the people.”

An Agence France-Presse journalist saw bodies being carried away and houses submerged in mud in two areas of the city, where roads were turned into churning rivers.

Mohamed Sinneh, a morgue technician at Freetown’s Connaught hospital, said at least 180 bodies had been received, many of them children, leaving no space to lay the dead because of the “overwhelming” number of bodies at the facility.

More bodies were taken to private morgues, Sinneh said.

Sierra Leone’s national television broadcaster interrupted its regular programming to show scenes of people trying to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones.

Military personnel have been deployed to help in the rescue operation, officials said.

Images shared by local media showed people waist-deep trying to cross streets of flowing water, while a section of a hill in Regent was reported to have collapsed.

Fatmata Sesay, who lives on the hilltop area of Juba, said she, her three children and husband were awoken at 4.30am by rain beating down on the mud house they occupy, which was by then submerged by water. She managed to escape by climbing on to the roof. “We have lost everything and we do not have a place to sleep,” she told AFP.

Tom Dannatt, CEO of the organisation Street Child, has launched an emergency appeal to support those affected. “Urgent actions are needed,” he said. “The current death toll has risen to over 300 and over 300 houses have been destroyed. These communities need our help.”
Prospective presidential candidate for the All People’s Congress, John Bonoh Sisay, said: “My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the heavy flooding in the areas surrounding Freetown. As the emergency services continue to take steps to reach and help all vulnerable people, I urge everyone in the affected areas to try to stay safe and calm during this tough time. We stood together as a country and won the fight against Ebola. Together, we will overcome this too.”

Flooding is an annual threat in Sierra Leone, where unsafe housing is regularly swept away during the rainy season. In the capital in 2015, floods killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.

“There is little to no urban planning going on in the city at all levels of society,” said Jamie Hitchen, of the Africa Research Institute. “The government is failing to provide housing for the poorest in society. There is a chronic housing deficit in the city and the issues only get discussed on an annual basis when flooding happens and [it] comes into the spotlight.”

Although the government has relocated some communities from informal housing, these are often forced resettlements which leave residents on the outskirts of the city, and many soon return to their original homes.

Abdul Tejan-Cole, former commissioner of Sierra Leone’s anti-corruption commission, tweeted: “Floods once again expose bad planning and lack of a national emergency management system.”

The UN in Sierra Leone tweeted that it is “assessing damage, preparing response”.

The British high commissioner in Sierra Leone, Guy Warrington, tweeted: “My thoughts are with the people of Salone at this difficult time.” Read more at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/14/deaths-sierra-leone-mudsli...

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