Freetown. — The death toll from massive mudslides in Sierra Leone’s capital was certain to rise yesterday as bodies washed up on a beach and workers searched for an untold number of people buried in their homes. The Red Cross estimated that 600 people were still missing.
Authorities have said more than 300 people were killed in and around Freetown on Monday following heavy rains. Many were trapped under tonnes of mud as they slept. The Connaught Hospital mortuary in central Freetown was overwhelmed yesterday, with more than 300 bodies, many spread on the floor.
“The magnitude of the destruction as a result of the disaster is such that the number of victims in the community, who may not come out alive, may likely exceed the number of dead bodies already recovered,” said Charles Mambu, a civil society activist and resident of one affected area, Mount Sugar Loaf.
In a sign of hope, he said, “two bodies were brought out alive from the debris last evening.” Government spokesperson Cornelius Deveaux said rescue operations began early yesterday to remove people still believed to be buried in the rubble. Heavy equipment was deployed to dig into the piles of red mud.
Deveaux said definitive death figures were unknown “as the mortuary is overwhelmed with corpses — men, women and children.”
Many bodies were in a horrible state, missing arms, heads or legs, Deveaux said, adding that proper burials will be vital in keeping diseases at bay.
“Contingency plans are being put in place to mitigate the outbreak of diseases like cholera,” he told a local radio station, FM 98.1. — Agencies.