Over 300 bodies recovered from mudslide

FREETOWN – Rescuers have recovered over 300 bodies after Monday’s deadly mudslide on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital, the country’s tourism minister said Wednesday.

Sidie Tunis told local radio that 297 bodies have been brought to the overwhelmed city morgue at the Connaught Hospital, including those of 105 men, 83 women and 109 children. A further seven bodies were found at the site on Wednesday morning, raising the death toll to 304 people, Col. Abubakarr Bah, who is leading recovery operations, told CNN.

Residents told CNN that an unknown number of bodies were found on a beach later Wednesday, but that hasn’t been confirmed by officials.

A mass burial will be held on Thursday. It was postponed to allow families to identify their loved ones.

Around 600 people are still unaccounted for after heavy rains struck the Regent district in the early hours of Monday morning, causing torrents of mud to wash down Mount Sugar Loaf, about five miles outside the capital, Freetown, according to government officials and aid agencies.

Houses that hugged the slopes, many of them little more than wooden shacks with tin roofs, were buried after a chunk of the mountain came down under the force of the water.

Numbers are expected to rise as search and rescue efforts continue for a third day in one of the deadliest natural disasters to hit Africa in recent years. A mass burial is planned for Wednesday and Thursday in an effort to free up space in the struggling mortuaries.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people have been displaced, Abu Bakarr, spokesman for the Red Cross in Sierra Leone, told CNN on Tuesday.

At noon on Wednesday, the country came to a standstill for a minute’s silence to honor those who died in the tragedy.

Bishop John Yambasu, head of the United Methodist church, led prayers from the scene of the mudslide. He had come to visit the site to pay his respects where a congregation had held an overnight vigil.

“We have been through ten years of war, then Ebola and now this. Have mercy on Sierra Leone, Father,” he intoned.

James Chifwelu, national director of the charity World Vision in Sierra Leone, described the scenes as “heartbreaking,” with the “sounds of wailing and mourning everywhere” as rescuers continued to work against the clock to pull survivors from the rubble.

Many residents of the hilltop community were still asleep when the disaster hit.

“It’s disturbing that so many lives have been lost following this heavy rain and mudslide,” Chifwelu said.

“But it’s most disturbing that many children in their school uniforms were unfortunately fatally caught up in the landslide and many more are homeless, orphaned and will be without food and clothing for days to come. This certainly calls for immediate action.’’

Source: (CNN)

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