270 bodies recovered, 600 missing in Sierra Leone mudslide

August 15, 2017 Updated: August 15, 2017

FREETOWN—Rescue workers have recovered 270 bodies so far from a mudslide in the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, the mayor said on Tuesday, as rescue operations continued and morgues struggled to find space for all the dead.

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

Dozens of houses were covered in mud when a mountainside collapsed in the town of Regent on Monday morning, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Africa in recent years.

“We have a total of 270 corpses which we are now preparing for burial,” Freetown mayor Sam Gibson told reporters outside city hall.

Bodies have continued to arrive at the city’s central morgue. Corpses are lying on the floor and on the ground outside because the morgue is overloaded, a Reuters witness said.

“Our problem here is space. We are trying to separate, quantify, and examine quickly and then we will issue death certificates before the burial,” said Owiz Koroma, head of the morgue.

He did not have an updated death toll but said: “It’s in the hundreds, hundreds!”

Police officers stand at the site after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017 in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Police officers stand at the site after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017 in this still image taken from a video. (REUTERS/Reuters TV)

‘Fear of Disease’

Sierra Red Cross Society spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said by phone he estimated that at least 3,000 people were homeless and in need of shelter, medical assistance and food.

The Red Cross said another 600 were missing.

“We are also fearful of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Freetown. “We can only hope that this does not happen.”

A man walks under umbrella in water covered street in Freetown, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Instagram/dawncharris via REUTERS
A man walks under umbrella in water covered street in Freetown, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. (Instagram/dawncharris via REUTERS)

Residents stand near an ambulance after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ernest Henry
Residents stand near an ambulance after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017. (REUTERS/Ernest Henry)

Contaminated water and water-logging often lead to potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhea after floods and mudslides.

Crowds of people gathered, waiting for news of missing family members.

“I’ve been looking for my aunt and her two children, but so far no word about them,” said Mohamed Jalloh, crying. He said he feared the worst.

President Koroma said in a television address on Monday evening that rescue centers had been set up around the capital to register and assist victims.

Bulldozers dug through mud and rubble at the foot of Mount Sugar Loaf, where many residents had been asleep when part of the mountainside collapsed. The government said a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area.