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Sierra Leone News: Families search for relatives among the dead

Hundreds lined up outside the Connaught mortuary Wednesday to search for relatives among the dead. They were hoping to bring their loved ones home for a proper burial before mass burials at Waterloo begin Thursday morning. About 10 to 20 people at a time were led into the mortuary courtyard where close to 200 bodies lay on the wet, concrete ground.
According to officials from the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, there are over 400 confirmed deaths and over 600 still missing.
Speaking to Amara Kallon, the bereaved father of a 3-year old kindergarten pupil, he explained that his daughter used to stay with him in Kono but the mother requested for their daughter to spend the holiday with her in Freetown. Both died in the mudslide.
Kallon was only able to identify his daughter with the help of the porters at the mortuary after looking at the pictures he brought with him for reference. “The present condition of my daughter is nothing good to talk about,” Kallon said. “I’ve engaged with other family members and we have decided to allow the government to go ahead with a dignified burial process.”
In many developed nations, the identity of unidentified corpses can be figured out using medical records such as dental records, fingerprints, and DNA analysis. Unfortunately, those tools and records are not available in Freetown so relatives must search the faces of each and every victim.
Hawa Stevens lost 28 family members in Monday’s disaster. Speaking through tears, she said that she was only able to identify two of her deceased relatives at the mortuary. She last saw her family members the day before the mudslide.
“I can’t believe my eyes… mother, father, sisters, brothers, cousins and other family members all gone,” Stevens cried. “My life has been shattered. Where will I start? What about my education…please help me God.”
Simeon Foday, elder brother of two missing people, after coming from the mortuary, said, “I cannot identify any of my siblings. The corpses are too much and their present condition will definitely prevent us from properly identifying them. I will not rest until I have a word for my missing children.”
He explained that his siblings were staying with their aunt, who is also missing at the moment, explaining, “I’m willing for the government to carry on with the safe and dignified burial as I cannot afford to carry their corpses even if I had identified them due to the conditions of the corpses I saw.”
Many relatives coming to the mortuary find little solace in identifying their relatives. Ibrahim Massquoi traveled from Kenema, Monday, to locate his wife and kids and has been searching ever since. He was able to identify his wife at mortuary but saw no sign of his two little girls.
“I don’t have anything now, only the clothes I’m wearing,” Massquoi said. “I lost my wife and my two children. My kids, they are my future but now I have lost my kids and I lost my wife. Two girls, gone. As I stand, I don’t know how to talk, I don’t even know what to say because everything is down, everything is gone.”
By Alhaji M. Kamara & Timothy Kenney [Intern]
Thursday August 17, 2017.

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