Sierra Leone Prepares for Mass Funerals

Mudslides kill more than 300, another 600 are still missing
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 16, 2017 2:48 PM CDT
Sierra Leone Prepares for Mass Funerals
Security forces search for bodies from the scene of heavy flooding and mudslides in Regent, just outside of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, Tuesday, Aug. 15 , 2017.    (Manika Kamara)

Sierra Leone's government urged family members to come to the capital's overwhelmed mortuary Wednesday to identify their loved ones' remains as the West African nation prepared to bury hundreds of mudslide and flood victims, the AP reports. Crews continued the grim work of extracting bodies from tons of debris after fierce storms left impoverished, low-lying areas of Freetown buried in mud from the city's hilltops. Volunteers have been digging with pick axes and, at times, only their hands. More than 300 people are confirmed dead—a third of them children—and Red Cross officials estimate some 600 others remain missing more than 48 hours after the storm hit. Thousands of people have lost their homes.

President Ernest Bai Koroma's office asked relatives to come to the city's morgue, saying that all unidentified corpses will be given a "dignified burial" in the coming days. He had called for seven days of mourning starting on Wednesday. Amid the chaos of rescue efforts, the government has said contingency plans were being put in place to try to stem the outbreak of diseases such as cholera. The threat of further mudslides around Freetown remained Wednesday. Many poor areas of the capital are near sea level and have poor drainage systems, which makes flooding worse during the rainy season. Sierra Leone's government has pleaded for international assistance as it reels from yet another disaster just a couple of years after the Ebola outbreak that left thousands in the region dead. (More Sierra Leone stories.)

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