By The Associated Press……
Authorities have said that more than 400 people were killed in and around Freetown on Monday following heavy rains. Many were trapped under tons of mud as they slept.
“I have never seen anything like it,” said Abdul Nasir, program coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, describing the scale of the disaster. “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.”
In a sign of hope, he said, “two bodies were brought out alive from the debris last evening,” said Charles Mambu, a civil society activist and resident of one affected area, Mount Sugar Loaf.
Government spokesman Cornelius Deveaux said rescue operations began early Tuesday 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.”
Sulaiman Parker, the environmental protection officer on the Freetown City Council, said bodies will be buried in the next 48 hours.
Some rescue workers and volunteers dug overnight with their bare hands through the mud and debris in a desperate search for missing relatives. Military units have been deployed to help with the operation in the impoverished West African nation.
The Sierra Leone National Broadcasting Corp. showed people carrying the dead to the morgue in rice sacks.
Many of the impoverished areas of Sierra Leone’s capital are close to sea level and have poor drainage systems, exacerbating flooding during the rainy season. Freetown also is plagued by unregulated building of large residential houses in hilltop areas.
Thousands of makeshift settlements in and around the capital were severely affected.
“The government has been warning people not to construct houses in these areas. When they do this, there are risks,” Nasir said. “People don’t follow the standard construction rules, and that is another reason that many of these houses have been affected.”
Deforestation for estate development, firewood and charcoal is one of the leading factors of worsening flooding and mudslides.