Sierra Leone began a week of mourning for the victims of the mudslide and flooding that devastated parts of capital Freetown. With 600 people still missing, aid groups say it’s a race against time to find survivors.
More than 300 people were confirmed dead, about a third of them children. An unofficial estimate by a morgue on Wednesday put the death toll at 400.
Dozens of houses were buried as people slept when a mountainside collapsedin the town of Regent on Monday morning following days of heavy rain.
Facing the risk of disease, Freetown residents have started burying the victims. This despite reports that a planned mass burial on Wednesday to relieve pressure on the city's morgues had been delayed.
Freetown chief coroner Seneh Dumbuya told Reuters news agency the burial of 297 bodies was underway. The victims are being laid to rest in graves alongside those of Ebola victims in nearby Waterloo.
"We cannot wait for tomorrow for the burial, as was suggested by the government because most of the bodies are decomposing," he said. "The burial will continue up till night."
Dumbuya said about 400 bodies have been uncovered so far, but the number was likely to soon cross 500 as the search continues.
‘Race against time'
With 600 people still missing in Freetown, President Ernest Bai Koroma described the humanitarian challenge ahead as "overwhelming."
Koroma fought back tears as he described the devastation during a press conference on Tuesday. He has appealed for urgent help.
On Wednesday, rescue teams continued to dig out survivors and dispose of bodies.
Idalia Amaya, an emergency relief coordinator for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told Reuters that the chance of finding more survivors is "slim to none."
Aid organizations have warned that the rainy season was not yet over and that the city could witness more flooding.
Meanwhile, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has said that food aid was reaching the thousands who survived the natural disaster.
The WFP is distributing two-week food supplies to at least 7,500 people, including those rendered homeless, their hosts, rescue workers and mortuary staff.
"The mudslides have left a path of death and devastation," WFP country director Housainou Taal said in a statement. "We are focusing on the survivors, so they can recover and move ahead."
ap/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)