Death Toll Passes 300 in Flood-Stricken Sierra Leone Capital
At least 300 people are confirmed dead a day after mudslides and heavy flooding struck Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
Authorities say they expect the death toll to rise as search teams, military personnel and distraught relatives continue digging through the mud, looking for people buried or swept away in the disaster.
Kelvin Lewis, a reporter for VOA’s English to Africa service, said the searchers have little hope of finding more survivors.
“They are still doing excavation work, because of a lot of buildings are still covered. What I got is that they are looking for only corpses. I don’t think they would be able to find anyone who is alive anymore,” he said Tuesday.
Lewis said a Freetown mortuary he visited is overwhelmed. “There are bodies are lying practically everywhere, naked,” he said.
Relatives have identified and taken away some of the dead, according to Lewis. He said the chief pathologist is recommending the rest be buried in mass graves, because the mortuary needs to make room for more bodies.
A spokesman for the Red Cross told the French news agency, AFP, that the group had accounted for at least 312 dead. Officials say thousands of others have been left homeless.
The mudslide occurred early Monday while many Freetown residents were still sleeping, after hours of heavy rains. Witnesses described a particularly-hard hit area in the Regent district, saying roads became “churning rivers of mud.”
Photos and video posted by local residents showed people chest deep in mud trying to traverse the roads.
Lewis said homes had been built on an unstable hillside composed of clay-like soil. He says the situation was made worse when people chopped down trees for firewood.
He said officials expect bodies to pop up in unexpected places for months to come, as many people were carried away from the Regent area by floodwaters.
Freetown is often hit by heavy rain and flooding for several months a year.