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Mudslide triggered by heavy rains kills hundreds in Sierra Leone


Picture : Twitter

With more than 300 people confirmed dead in a mudslide in Sierra Leone capital Freetown, the government there is under pressure to explain why thousands of people have been allowed to build homes on hillsides denuded of vegetation.

Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation has posted video of churning rivers of mud which flowed down streets and covered houses. Most were still asleep when the flood began and were caught in their rooms unable to escape.

The Red Cross reports volunteers are digging for survivors in the wake of the disaster.

At least 3,000 have been rendered homeless with hundreds of structures destroyed as the river of mud flowed down steep slopes through the city.

Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Programme Coordinator Abdul Nasir is on the scene and has said that the damage is catastrophic.

"In places, entire communities seem to have been washed away and whatever is left is covered in mud," he said. "Red Cross volunteers have been on site since this morning and have been digging with their bare hands and whatever tools available to find survivors. They are also caring for and helping family members who are desperately waiting for news of their loved ones."

Days of heavy rain led to the hillsides becoming waterlogged. Environmentalists have warned that the uncontrolled building of non-certified structures on hillsides in poor countries is a risk, particularly as vegetation is removed which binds the soil together.

Africa Research Institute scientist Jamie Hitchen has been quoted by the Guardian as saying that the lack of proper town planning could have contributed to the disaster.

"There is little to no urban planning going on in the city at all levels of society," he said. "The government is failing to provide housing for the poorest in society. There is a chronic housing deficit in the city and the issues only get discussed on an annual basis when flooding happens and [it] comes into the spotlight."

Social media updates from the countries broadcast and other sources show residents trying to locate missing relatives as the rain continues to fall. Weather forecasters say the heavy rain is usual for this time of year.

Vice-President Victor Foh told media that the death toll could rise.

"It is likely that hundreds are lying dead underneath the rubble." He said a number of illegal buildings were constructed in the area. "The disaster is so serious that I myself feel broken," he said. "We're trying to cordon the area, evacuate the people."

Sugar Loaf Mountain, Freetown area known as “Regent” - image : Twitter

Days of heavy rain led to the hillsides becoming waterlogged. Environmentalists have warned that the uncontrolled building of non-certified structures on hillsides in poor countries is a risk, particularly as vegetation is removed which binds the soil together.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was "saddened by the deaths and devastation" and offered his condolences to those who suffered loss.


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