Freetown: A government health official on Friday said the death toll from devastating mudslides in Sierra Leone has reached 467, with the number of dead expected to rise.
“The death toll includes those killed in mudslides on the outskirts of the West African nation’s capital, Freetown, and fatalities from flash floods in other provinces,” CNN quoted Deputy Health Minister Madina Rahman as saying.
Rahman said the country also must battle cholera and malaria as people are facing major health challenges. Some residents have gotten skin infections from the water they have been washing in.
“Officials are putting in place plans for cholera preparedness and prevention. We are equipped to a point. We can’t do it alone,” she added.
Earlier, President Ernest Bai Koroma had declared a seven-day state mourning in honour of the victims of the devastating mudslide by terming the disaster as the worst in Africa over the past two decades.
The national mourning period is from August 16 to August 22 and flags are at half-mast.
The President has also appealed for urgent help to support the thousands of people affected by mudslide and declared the calamity a national emergency caused by heavy rains and flooding in the country’s capital Freetown, which has also left 600 missing.
President Koroma said, in a televised address to the nation, that he was “very disturbed by this national tragedy,” and promised to create an emergency response center in Regent, a neighbourhood, where dozens of people were thought to be trapped inside homes buried under soaked earth cleaved from the hillside.
Health officials at Sierra Leone’s Connaught Hospital said over 400 corpses had been collected from the rubble as a rescue mission continues.
“As of now, we have collected over 400 corpses. Our facility has been over-stretched and more corpses are being brought in. Throughout my entire career, I have never witnessed a grave situation like this,” the Anadolu news agency quoted Sinneh Kamara, assistant officer at the hospital’s mortuary, as saying.
The victims have also been asked to identify their relatives at the mortuary ahead of a mass burial. Unidentified corpses will also be given a dignified burial, the government said.
Alpha Conde, president of Guinea and head of the African Union, arrived in Freetown on late Tuesday to offer his sympathies to the government and people.
Israel becomes the first country to extend assistance to disaster-hit Sierra Leone by delivering food aid for 10,000 meals.
“We will work with the Sierra Leone Government to provide more medical aid in the coming weeks,” Israel’s Ambassador to West Africa Paul Hirshson said.
The Commonwealth and the African Union also offered condolences to the people of Sierra Leone and promised to support the country.
The Red Cross said torrential rains caused mudslides on Monday and transformed city streets into fast-moving rivers of muddy water, washing away everything in their path.