Sierra Leone mudslides: Fears up to 1,000 people could be dead and some bodies will ‘never be found’

Fear are mounting that up to 1,000 people could have died under the mud that ripped through Freetown, Sierra Leone, last week.

More than 450 victims are already confirmed to have died, after part of a mountain on the outskirts of the capital city caved in following heavy rain.

But it is believed the number of missing could exceed 600, and hopes are dimming for their chances of survival.

Rescue officials have warned that the chances of finding survivors “are getting smaller every day”.


Many bodies have been disfigured by the effects of the mudslide.

“Everyone was mangled because all these boulders came down the hill,” said Olivia Acland, a Freetown based photographer.

“They smashed through people’s houses and they’re still discovering body parts. There’s heads and feet and hands.  Its grizzly.”


Describing the scene near Sugar Loaf Mountain, she added: “It’s crazy, there’s this brown stain down the side of the mountain.”

John James, spokesman for Unicef in Freetown, said bodies were still being recovered, some from the sea and others washed back into shore and among mangrove swamps.

“There’s still high numbers of missing…it’s safe to say some won’t be found,” Mr James said.
The number of corpses still unburied is a clear health hazard, he added.

Calculations are being done using satellite imagery and census figures in an attempt to gain a more accurate picture of the number people living in the affected areas.

The main priority for aid workers is now preventing an outbreak of cholera or other water-borne disease.


Sierra Leone suffered a severe cholera outbreak in 2012, when the disease infected at least 25,000 people and killed hundreds.

Freetown’s water infrastructure also has been damaged by the mudslide.

Mass burials have already begun because of fears of an outbreak. Biohazard outfits used during the country’s devastating Ebola outbreak have again been deployed by healthcare workers.

But there are said to be insufficient supplies of cholera vaccines in the country, and emergency workers are trying to get more in.

And the threat of mudslides still lingers, as the rainy season continues.

The British government has donated £5m towards the relief effort.

Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development, said: “This tragedy comes shortly after the Ebola crisis which Sierra Leone has worked so hard to recover from.

“Britain was at the forefront in tackling that deadly disease and we remain shoulder to shoulder with Sierra Leone today after these devastating events.”


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