FREETOWN — Sierra Leone’s president issued a desperate appeal for help, a day after flooding ravaged the country’s capital, killing more than 300 people and leaving hundreds more missing.
President Ernest Bai Koroma fought back tears and said the devastation was "overwhelming us", as he toured Regent, one of the worst-hit areas.
"Entire communities have been wiped out," Koroma said on Tuesday.
"We need urgent support now."
As the city began to bury its dead, foreign governments began mobilising aid, with Israel pledging to provide clean water, medicines, blankets and other essentials.
The UN said it was evaluating humanitarian needs in the country and that "contingency plans are being put in place to mitigate any potential outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhea", according to spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
He noted that the International Organisation for Migration had released $150,000 in emergency funds.
Heavy rains streaming down a hill in Regent triggered a landslide that engulfed homes three or four storeys high, many of them built illegally.
Koroma toured Regent’s Connaught hospital and central morgue, which has been overwhelmed by bodies.
The government of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has promised relief to more than 3,000 people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent.
The Red Cross said 600 people were still missing.
Red Cross official Nasir Khan said the death toll was around 300 on Tuesday evening, but a separate morgue assessment put the figure at 400.
Sulaiman Zaino Parker, an official with Freetown’s city council, said 150 burials took place on Tuesday evening and that many would be laid to rest in graves alongside victims of the country’s last humanitarian disaster, the Ebola crisis, in nearby Waterloo.
"We have started burying some of the mutilated and decomposed bodies. All the corpses will be given a dignified burial with Muslim and Christian prayers," Parker said.
The graves would be specially marked for future identification, he added.
The Red Cross said it was struggling to excavate families buried deep in the mud that engulfed their homes, though several bodies were pulled up by diggers in Regent on Tuesday, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
"We are racing against time, more flooding and the risk of disease to help these affected communities survive and cope with their loss," said Abu Bakarr Tarawallie, another Red Cross official. — AFP