Hundreds of people are believed to have died after a mudslide flattened dozens of houses on the outskirts of Freetown. Sierra Leone's mayor has said 270 bodies have already brought into the morgue.
The Sierra Leone capital Freetown will host a mass funeral on Tuesday to free up space in its central morgue after 270 bodies were recovered from the rubble of a mudslide and flood disaster on the outskirts of the city.
Rescue workers were still searching for more bodies Tuesday morning as they tried to clear bodies from the morgue, the mayor told reporters outside the city hall.
President Ernest Bai Koroma urged residents of Regent and other flooded areas around Freetown to evacuate immediately to allow the military and rescue workers to continue their search.
Various estimates put the death toll between 300 and 500 people, potentially making it the contintent's worst floods since 2006
"Our nation has once again been gripped by grief. Many of our compatriots have lost their lives, many more have been gravely injured and billions of Leones' (hundreds of thousands of dollars or euros) worth of property destroyed in the flooding and landslides that swept across some parts of our city," Koroma said in a television address.
"Every single family, every single ethnic group, every single region is either directly or indirectly affected by this disaster."
Sierra Leone national television interrupted its regular programming to broadcast images of people digging through the mud, desperate to retrieve the bodies of loved ones. Pictures also showed people carrying their victims' remains in rice sacks to the local morgue. The Red Cross said at least 312 people died in the disaster and as many as 3,000 people had been left homeless.
Officials said that military forces would be deployed to help in the rescue efforts in the densely populated area, where at least 100 buildings are thought to have collapsed.
Pictures posted by local residents on Twitter showed streets in the capital transformed into churning rivers and locals waist deep in the muddy waters.
The country's deputy information officer said it was still trying to compile exact number of casualties.
The city of Freetown had been battered by severe storms and flooding throughout the day on Monday. Sierra Leone's meteorological department did not issue any warnings ahead of the torrential rains, a correspondent for news agency AFP said.
The country often finds itself engulfed by severe floods over the rainy season, while unsafe housing with poor drainage systems have seen scores of people killed and led to high rates of homelessness. Foh indicated that the engulfed area had seen a number of illegal buildings recently erected.
Sierra Leone was one of the worst affected countries in western Africa by the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, which left more than 4,000 people dead. Its economy has struggled to recover since the outbreak, with around 60 percent of people still living below the national poverty line, according to the United Nations Development Program.
dm/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)