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Mass burials for Sierra Leone flood victims

Fred Muvunyi
August 17, 2017

Sierra Leone has begun Thursday mass burials of the hundreds of victims of the deadly flooding and mudslides that hit Freetown. A third of the victims were children. Red Cross has said about 600 are still missing.

Landslide in Sierra Leone: security forces with protective masks
Image: picture-alliance/AP/M. Kamara

Red Cross volunteers and rescuers are digging for survivors and supporting distraught families in the wake of massive flooding and mudslides that have ripped through Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. Current figures indicate that as many as 11,000 families were made homeless after heavy rains swept off the capital.  DW has been speaking to Matthew Cochrane, the spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

DW: Describe the situation at the moment in Freetown?

Matthew Cochrane: The situation is still quite critical. Search and rescue efforts are continuing now. This is the fourth day now since the disaster, although the likelihood of finding survivors is rapidly diminishing. Although we remain hopeful, realistically our volunteers have recognized that there are slim chances to recover the bodies and there are still about 600 people missing. So the death toll is likely to rise. We believe that about 11.000 families have been affected – which is about 45000 people who might be homeless. Their homes are either permanently destroyed or not even accessible because of the flooding. It's a serious disaster for Freetown, and the humanitarian response is ongoing. 

And how are you exactly helping?

The Red Cross is working alongside rescuers in providing first aid to the injured. They are also involved in transporting the dead to the morgues and supporting authorities with safe and dignified burials of the deceased. One of the critical roles we are applying is providing psycho- social support to the families who have lost relatives and to the kids who've lost their moms and dads; it's a critical component of the emergency response. We are also working to ensure that people have access to clean water. We are also in discussion with the government [of Sierra Leone] regarding providing shelter to the people who have lost their homes.

We understand that many of the flood victims were children. What kind of state of mind are survivors in? 

People have been shocked by the violence and savagery of this disaster. I can imagine the pain of the children who lost their families and their homes, but it's not only the children- everyone is in a state of shock. This was unexpected and devastating.

Media reports say that over 100 children have died. Do we have actual figures of the victims?

Sorry, I don't have that number. I know that the numbers the government is reporting are about 400 people dead. The disaster happened when many people were in their homes.


Matthew Cochrane is the spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Interview: Fred Muvunyi



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