21 Aug 2017

Nearly 500 dead pulled from Sierra Leone mudslide

9:58 am on 21 August 2017

Rescue workers have unearthed 499 bodies since last week's devastating landslide near the Sierra Leone capital Freetown, according to the city's chief coroner.

Fatoumata Dioumbouya lost her husband in the Freetown landslip.

Fatoumata Dioumbouya lost her husband when a hillside collapsed in heavy rain, sweeping away hundreds of homes in Freetown. Photo: AFP

One of Africa's worst flooding-related disasters in years occurred when the side of Mount Sugar Loaf collapsed on Monday after heavy rain, burying parts of Regent on the outskirts of Freetown and overwhelming relief efforts in one of the world's poorest countries.

Authorities this week buried 461 bodies in quickly-dug graves in the nearby Waterloo cemetery, near the site of a mass burial for victims of the Ebola crisis that killed 4000 people in the former British colony between 2014 and 2016.

Thirty-eight more bodies were found on Sunday, said chief coroner Seneh Dumbuya, bringing the official death toll to 499. They were being sent for immediate burial, he said.

The Red Cross said on Friday that more than 600 people were still missing.

An increasingly desperate search continued on Sunday on the steep hillside under the wet red mud, as the likelihood of finding survivors was all but extinguished.

Authorities said they were concentrating on digging up bodies to stop water supply contamination and the spread of disease.

Workers remove a victim found in the mud and debris, days following the collapse of a hillside that swept away hundreds of homes in Freetown.

Workers remove a victim found in the mud and debris, days after the landslide. Photo: AFP

"We are doing all we can to ensure cholera does not break out," said Samuel Turay, an official at the health ministry.

The threat of deadly landslides is growing in west and central Africa as rainfall, deforestation and urban populations rise, experts say.

On Thursday, a landslide in remote eastern Congo crushed the mud houses of a lake-side fishing village, potentially killing over 200 people, a local official told Reuters.

- Reuters