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Sierra Leone News: Mudslide disaster… death toll continues to rise

As the heavy rains subsided Tuesday morning, thousands flocked to the Regent area mudslide to aid rescue efforts and survey the damage. At least 300 people died during Monday’s mudslide and widespread flooding, but many in the area believe the true death toll could be double that or higher. The Connaught mortuary is overcapacity as bodies continue to arrive from several sites along the river.
“Over 278 houses were in this community but we can hardly see one now. They’ve been submerged under the mud,” said Ansumana Tejan Kamara, the Deputy Head Man of the village. “We are talking about thousands of people that used to reside here. We succeeded in recovering over 300 corpses on the first day and we are still removing more.”
Medical workers, community volunteers, and soldiers continued to comb through the debris where the Mortome settlement used to stand for any signs of life. So far they have only found corpses, according to Kamara. After almost two days of searching, it is unlikely that any will be found.
Over a hundred bodies were found on Tuesday at the Mortome debris field and Lumley mangroves more than three kilometers downstream of the landslide. The Connaught mortuary continues to receive bodies despite being far overcapacity. Mortuary staff are considering starting the burial process to make room for the near continuous stream of corpses brought in each day by volunteers.
One young man, Baimba Amara, volunteered as soon as he heard about the disaster Monday morning, traveling all the way from his home on Waterloo St. He has worked for two days straight transporting bodies; many of which he said, “had no hands, limbs, head, or even some that are divided in two.” Amara like may of the volunteers has not returned home since the disaster, instead choosing to sleep in shifts at the mortuary.
“Conveying corpses is very challenging but we need to do it so that we can give befitting burial to our brothers and sisters who have lost their lives through this natural disaster,” Amara said. “I’m not feeling happy doing this work but I have no other option than to give my support.”
The Red Cross and the Presidential Priorities Team set up several sites where friends and relatives registered the names of missing family members. About 600 people have been reported missing, according to the Red Cross. Some relatives and neighbors in the area have yet to report their missing, so the total unaccounted for of the thousands who lived in Mortome is hard to pinpoint.
Several houses just narrowly missed the destructive force of the mudslide. One soldier, Ivan Smith, lives in a stone house less than a meter from debris field.
“I saw the mud and stones coming so I shout out to my tenant that trouble is coming,” Smith said. “All of us dashed out running for our lives. All the corpse they are retrieving now are those who heard the sound too late to escape. The vast majority that were sleeping are still under the mud with their houses.”
Mariama Fornah returned home Tuesday to look out onto the mudslide from her front porch again, mere meters from the twisted piles of concrete, mud, and metal rebar. She lost two of her worker boys who lived just down the hill. The shock and helplessness she felt seeing the river of mud and stone early Monday morning remains in her mind.
“It was traumatizing seeing my neighbours and friends dying under the mud and there was nothing I could do about it,” Fornah said. “I’ve spent the two days without food because I’ve lost my appetite thinking about the way these people disappeared without saying goodbye.” AMK/15/8/17

By Alhaji Manica Kamara & Timothy Kenney (Intern)

Wednesday August 16, 2017.

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