FREETOWN: Concerns shifted on Wednesday to the estimated 600 people still missing and thousands made homeless in Sierra Leone by deadly floods in the capital, as it emerged that at least a third of those killed were children.
Officials at Freetown’s central morgue said 105 of the more than 300 officially dead were children, and burials began on Tuesday for some of the bodies too mutilated to identify. An independent but unofficial morgue estimate put the toll at 400 dead.
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 what the Red Cross says is 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 that 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.”
Adele Fox, national health coordinator for Sierra Leone for the charity Concern Worldwide, said that the search for bodies continued but that survivors were facing difficult conditions.
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.
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 an outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea, as dirty water stagnates in the streets. Many homes are now without a water supply due to damage to a reservoir near Regent, according to the Guma Valley Water Company.
Three days of torrential rain culminated on Monday in the Regent mudslide and torrential 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.
Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2017