Officials in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, say at least 250 people are dead after a mudslide and heavy flooding.
Relatives dug through the mud in search of their loved ones Monday while military personnel were deployed to help with the rescue operation.
Photos and video posted by local residents showed people chest deep in mud trying to traverse the roads.
The catastrophe in the early hours of Monday followed hours of heavy rains. Witnesses described a particularly-hard hit area in Regent saying roads became churning rivers of mud.
Sinneh Kamara, a technician at the Connaught Hospital mortuary, told state media that a lack of space is forcing workers to leave bodies on the floor.
The capacity at the mortuary is too small for the corpses, he said. Kamara said the death toll will likely rise, as many people were sleeping in their homes when the flooding and mudslide happened.
A spokesman for the Red Cross told the French News agency that the group had accounted for at least 312 dead.
Officials estimate several thousand people have been left homeless.
State television halted regular programming and showed scenes of people carrying loved ones’ remains in rice sacks to morgues, while others were seen digging through the mud in search of missing family members.
Vice President Victor Foh, who came to the Regent area, told Reuters that It is likely that hundreds are lying dead underneath the rubble. He said a number of illegal buildings were constructed in the area.
The disaster is so serious that I myself feel broken, he said. We’re trying to cordon (off) the area (and) evacuate the people.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was saddened by the deaths and devastation and offered his condolences to those who suffered loss.
Some impoverished areas in Sierra Leone’s capital are located near sea level and have poor drainage systems, which increases flooding during rainy season. Freetown is often hit by heavy rain and flooding for several months a year which raises the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera.
Sierra Leone was one of several west African nations hit by an outbreak of the Ebola virus in 2014. The epidemic left more than 4,000 people dead and greatly affected the country’s economy which is still trying to recover.
Source: Voice of America