Thousands left homeless, prey to diseases, after Sierra Leone mudslide

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 15 August 2017 18:45 GMT

Emergency workers are pictured at the central morgue at Connaught hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Umaru Fofana

Image Caption and Rights Information
"You can see people openly grieving"

(Updates death toll in lede and paragraph 3, adds number of missing in paragraph 5)

By Kieran Guilbert

DAKAR, Aug 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of people in Sierra Leone left homeless by a mudslide which killed at least 400 people urgently need food, shelter and healthcare, aid agencies said on Tuesday, as they raced to prevent outbreaks of fatal diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

A mountainside collapsed on Monday morning in Regent, on the outskirts of the capital Freetown, burying dozens of homes as people slept, in one of Africa's deadliest mudslides in decades.

Rescue workers have uncovered nearly 400 bodies, Freetown's chief coroner Seneh Dumbuya said on Tuesday. He said he expected that number to surpass 500 as the search continues.

"We estimate that at least 3,000 people are homeless ... they need shelter, medical assistance and food," Sierra Red Cross Society spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said by phone.

Another 600 people are estimated to be missing, according to the Red Cross.

"We are also fearful of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid," Tarawallie told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We can only hope that this does not happen."

People inspect the damage after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017. REUTERS/ Ernest Henry

Contaminated water and water-logging often unleash potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhoea after floods and mudslides.

Torrential flooding has also destroyed buildings and covered homes in low-lying areas of Freetown, agencies said.

"Houses have been totally submerged and washed away," said Ramatu Jalloh, advocacy director at Save the Children. "Families are trying to gather their lives together but they have lost their homes, all of their possessions, their whole livelihoods."

President Ernest Bai Koroma on Monday evening told residents of Regent and other flooded areas to evacuate immediately so that military personnel and rescue workers could continue to search for survivors that might be buried underneath debris.

The United Nations children's agency (UNICEF) is providing trauma counselling and therapy to families and children in the dozen-odd communities struck by the mudslide.

"You can see people openly grieving ... there is a lot of hurt to address," said UNICEF spokesman John James.

Britain's aid department said it is sending assistance, having invested in disaster preparedness and emergency response since the Ebola outbreak which ravaged the former British colony from 2014 to 2016, infecting 14,000 people and killing 4,000.

"From stopping the Ebola outbreak in its tracks to helping the country rebuild ‎after this deadly event - the UK continues to stand by the people of Sierra Leone," said Priti Patel, the minister of the Department for International Development.

Several aid agencies told the Thomson Reuters Foundation they were bracing for more heavy rainfall in the coming days.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.