Death Toll Rises in Sierra Leone Mudslide

A national emergency has been declared in Sierra Leone after the country was hit with the worst flood seen in the African nation in two decades.

Sierra Leone’s President Bai Koroma said the devastation from the flooding was overwhelming. “Entire communities have been wiped out. We need support now.” Freetown mayor Same Gibson said nearly 300 corpses had been recovered and are being prepared for burial.

Thousands of people are reportedly still missing. Search and rescue efforts have continued as the mudslide has trapped residents in their homes while they were sleeping. The UN is using satellite data technology, radar imagery and drone mapping to help evaluate which areas are at further risk for a second mudslide. The risk is particularly high as there are still several weeks to go through the country’s rainy season.

Over 3,000 people who survived the flooding spent the night in neighboring towns or were taken to local police shelters. 

Although Sierra Leone is prone to flooding, the city was not prepared for a disaster of this size, monitoring and evaluation officer for Oxfam Daniel Byrne said. “This particular emergency is unique because the total number of survivors is not that high compared with the people who have died. No one was expecting a situation like this. People are using their bare hands to remove bodies.”

Officials from the Sierra Leone government and the Red Cross have been moving the bodies to a holding center at Connaught Hospital in Freetown. Unfortunately, the death toll in Sierra Leone is likely to continue to rise. Director of International Programs at the British Red Cross Alex Carle added, “The spread of diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhea following flooding is also a huge concern.”

Over 600 people are still unaccounted for.

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