​Sierra Leone’s catastrophic mudslide claims over 500 lives

Early last week on Monday 14 August, on the outskirts of Freetown, Regent town was devastated by a mudslide which has so far claimed 500 lives. 150 of these were children. Following torrential rains, the side of Mt. Sugar Loaf collapsed: this tragedy is said to have been facilitated by deforestation. The small shanty houses that dotted the mountainside felt the full brunt of the disaster as floods, boulders and mud swept through. Whole generations were wiped out with few family members left shell shocked and in mourning. Hundreds remain unaccounted for and families fear they remained trapped in houses and vehicles beneath the earth or were carried away by the waters. Body parts began washing up on bordering beaches. As the week crawled by, the chances of recovering survivors dwindled; the rescuers began recovering limbs and body parts which were identified by family members. Freetown’s city morgue at the Connaught Hospital has been overwhelmed: the body count continues to rise. Thousands flocked to the mortuary in hopes of identifying loved ones and laying them to rest. Safety garb was issued to groups of fifty at a time: the process was long and painful. Some were denied entry into the mortuary as -with time’s passage- the bodies became a health and safety hazard. The Tourism and Cultural Affairs minister Yahya Tunis said the government laid to rest roughly 461 people in a mass burial last Thursday in Tunis, a neighbouring town. Many have been left desolate and at the mercy of aid agencies and the government. The Sierra Leonean government last week sent out calls for aid and assistance: existing aid shelters are overcrowded and overrun. With roughly 20,000 people displaced and the government calling for 10,000 more to relocate, safe houses, religious centres and temporary shelters are spilling over. The threat of cholera and other diseases is imminent; clean water and sanitation are not easily accessible. 

This tragedy comes hot on the heels of the Ebola outbreak and a civil war: the government has said that it is overstretched and in need of external assistance. Many took to social media to raise awareness and funds for the affected Sierra Leoneans. Some expressed their outrage at the little coverage the disaster was getting, especially in western media. The country now needs collective effort to recover: all are encouraged to participate in this effort…

Patience Nasieku