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Fears for 600 still missing in Sierra Leone floods

Flooding in freetown. PHOTO BY Society For Climate Change Communication-Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone | AFP | Concerns shifted Wednesday to the estimated 600 people still missing and thousands made homeless in Sierra Leone by deadly floods in the capital, as it emerged that at least a third of those killed were children.

The United Nations said Tuesday that it was evaluating humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone, while the first Israeli aid packages were sent and Britain pledged its support.

Officials at Freetown’s central morgue said 105 of the more than 300 officially dead were children, and burials began on Tuesday for some of the bodies too mutilated to identify. An independent but unofficial morgue estimate put the toll at 400 dead.

President Ernest Bai Koroma fought back tears on Tuesday as he visited the devastated hilltop community of Regent, saying the scale of the challenge ahead was “overwhelming us”.

“Entire communities have been wiped out,” Koroma said. “We need urgent support now.”

The government of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has promised relief to what the Red Cross says is more than 3,000 people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and registration centres to count those left on the streets.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York that the UN country team was “supporting national authorities in rescue operations, helping evacuate residents, providing medical assistance to the injured, registering survivors, and providing food rations, water and dignity kits to those affected.”

– From shock to anger –

Speaking to AFP at the mortuary at the Connaught Hospital, technician Mohamed Sinneh Kamara said his team lacked equipment to process and identify the bodies piling up.

“We have logistical constraints including a lack of gloves, PPE (personal protective equipment) and rain boots,” he said as families gathered to identify their loved ones’ bodies.

Mabinty Sesay’s family had gone to Regent for an all-night prayer session when the church was buried in the mudslide. “I have lost 13 of my family members but was only able to identify two,” she told AFP at the morgue.

One woman collapsed after seeing her husband’s dead body among the piles of corpses, amid a powerful stench of decomposing flesh.

Adele Fox, national health coordinator for Sierra Leone for the charity Concern Worldwide, told AFP that the search for bodies continued but that survivors were facing difficult conditions.

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