Sierra Leone’s president says his country needs “urgent support now” for thousands of people affected by flash flooding and mudslides in and around the capital Freetown.
A river of mud came out of nowhere and swallowed entire communities, just wiped them away. We are racing against time, more flooding and the risk of disease to help these affected communities survive and cope with their loss.
Ernest Bai Koroma fought back tears on Tuesday as he said at a news conference in the hilltop community of Regent that the disaster “was overwhelming”.
“Entire communities have been wiped out,” Koroma said at the site, where heavy rains streaming down the hill caused a landslide and engulfed homes three or four storeys high on Monday, many of them built illegally.
“A river of mud came out of nowhere and swallowed entire communities, just wiped them away. We are racing against time, more flooding and the risk of disease to help these affected communities survive and cope with their loss.”
Paolo Conteh, interior minister, told Sierra Leone’s state broadcaster that thousands of people remained missing.
The government has promised relief to the more than 3,000 people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and four registration centres.
Abibatu Kamara, a mother of three who spent the night on her neighbours’ veranda, said the government response so far had been absent.
“We have not received any food or blankets since the disaster occurred yesterday,” she told AFP news agency.
According to authorities, more than 300 people were killed and many were trapped under tonnes of mud as they slept.
The UK and Israel said they were sending aid, including clean water, medicines and blankets, as quickly as possible.
Sulaiman Parker, the environmental protection officer in the Freetown City Council, said bodies would be buried in the next 48 hours.
The Red Cross has estimated that 600 people were still missing and it was struggling to bring enough equipment to the site to excavate those buried deeply in the mud.
“I have never seen anything like it,” said Abdul Nasir, programme coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.