Fears for 600 still missing in Sierra Leone floods

Fears for 600 still missing in Sierra Leone floods

FREETOWN (AFP) – Concern shifted Wednesday to the estimated 600 people still missing and thousands made homeless in Sierra Leone by deadly floods in the capital, as aid groups scrambled to coordinate a response.

The United Nations said Tuesday it was evaluating humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone, while the first Israeli aid packages were sent and Britain pledged its support.

With morgues overwhelmed with bodies, burials began on Tuesday for some of the bodies too mutilated to identify.

 President Ernest Bai Koroma fought back tears on Tuesday as he visited the devastated hilltop community of Regent, saying the scale of the challenge ahead was “overwhelming us”.

“Entire communities have been wiped out,” Koroma said. “We need urgent support now.”

The government of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has promised relief to more than 3,000 people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and registration centres to count those left on the streets.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York the UN country team was “supporting national authorities in rescue operations, helping evacuate residents, providing medical assistance to the injured, registering survivors, and providing food rations, water and dignity kits to those affected.”

The Red Cross says 600 people are still missing, while more than 300 are already confirmed dead.

  • From shock to anger –

Adele Fox, national health coordinator for Sierra Leone for the charity Concern Worldwide, told AFP that the search for bodies continued but the survivors were facing difficult conditions.

“There is basic need for food, water, sanitation equipment and medical assistance. Since it is still rainy season, further flooding is also a possibility,” she warned.

The sentiment among those in the disaster areas had shifted from shock and grief to anger at what is an annual problem in Freetown, though never before on this scale.

“There is some frustration over the regularity of flooding and destruction during the rainy season and its effects,” she said.

  • ‘Wake-up call’ –

Society 4 Climate Change Communication (S4CCC), a local environment group, has called the tragedy a “wake-up call”.

Deforestation, a lack of urban planning and vulnerability to climate change had all played a part, it said.

The UN said contingency plans were being put into place in case of any potential outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea, as dirty water stagnates.

Sulaiman Zaino Parker, an official with Freetown’s city council, said 150 burials took place on Tuesday evening and that many would be laid to rest in graves alongside victims of the country’s last humanitarian disaster, the Ebola crisis, in nearby Waterloo.

“We have started burying some of the mutilated and decomposed bodies. All the corpses will be given a dignified burial with Muslim and Christian prayers,” Parker said.

The graves would be specially marked for future identification, he added.

Three days of torrential rain culminated on Monday in the Regent mudslide and massive flooding elsewhere in the city, one of the world’s wettest urban areas.

Freetown is hit each year by flooding during several months of rain, and in 2015 bad weather killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.

Sierra Leone ranked 179th out of 188 countries on the UN Development Programme’s 2016 Human Development Index, a basket of data combining life expectancy, education and income and other factors.

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