Sierra Leone entered a week-long mourning period for the victims of flooding that killed more than 300 people, with fears rising for at least 600 missing people.
Three days of torrential rain triggered mudslides on Monday in the Regent area of the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, and massive flooding elsewhere in the city, one of the world’s wettest urban areas.
The exact death toll was unclear. Rescue workers recovered almost 400 bodies, Reuters reported, citing Freetown’s chief coroner. A Red Cross official told the AFP news agency that the death toll was around 300 people on Tuesday evening.
Freetown’s drainage system was quickly overwhelmed, leaving stagnant water pooling in some areas while creating dangerous waterways that churned down steep streets.
The United Nations said on Tuesday it was evaluating the humanitarian needs in the West African country of seven million people.
“Contingency plans are being put in place to mitigate any potential outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhea,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
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.
Earlier in the day President Ernest Bai Koroma issued a desperate appeal for help, saying the damage was “overwhelming us.”
“Entire communities have been wiped out,” Koroma said, as he fought back tears while touring one of the worst-hit areas of the city. “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 four registration centers.