CHURCH communities in Sierra Leone have shown a “great outpouring of love” in the wake of a major landslide which killed hundreds of people and left thousands more without homes, near the capital of Freetown, on Monday.
Rescue workers had recovered about 400 bodies by Thursday, including 100 children, but at least 600 people were still missing, feared dead. Half of the bodies recovered had already been buried by this time to prevent the spread of disease from decomposing corpses, and ease the pressure on the rundown city centre mortuary, which has been overwhelmed.
Whole houses were buried, and roads became rivers, when a hillside collapsed in Regent, a mountainous town 15 miles east of Freetown, in the early hours of Monday, after a night of heavy rain. A national emergency has been called, with more rainfall forecast over the weekend.
The Christian charity Tearfund has been working with its church partners to aid the response on the ground. Its representative for Sierra Leone, Gaston Slanwa, who witnessed bodies being pulled from the water on Tuesday, said that 60 people had died and 300 had lost their homes in one church community alone.
“We are working closely with all our partners 24/7 to understand how best to support them, as well as liaising with the government and other agencies to carry out needs assessments, and co-ordinate our response,” he said.
There had been a “great outpouring of love” from the community towards victims of the disaster. “Hundreds of people are welcoming those fleeing the landslide into their own houses, and we are looking at opening schools and church buildings to help those who are now homeless.
“Our priority will be to ensure people are adequately cared for, with food, clean water, mattresses, blankets, clothing, and medication.”
The British Red Cross reported that volunteers had rescued 71 people from mud and debris, on Tuesday. More than 3000 are thought to have been made homeless, after hundreds of “poorly constructed” homes were crushed under the debris.
“The spread of diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and diarrhoea following flooding is also a huge concern,” the director of international programmes at the British Red Cross, Alex Carle, said.
Save the Children expressed similar concerns, and feared that dozens of children may be among the victims. “Houses are buried and entire families are missing, including children,” the charity’s country director in Sierra Leone, Sasha Ekanayake, said. “We are assessing and preparing to support the government in its response.
“A major concern right now is that children may have become separated during the mudslide and flood. Any response should prioritise reuniting children with families where possible, or ensuring access to appropriate care.”
The diocese of Chichester is formally linked with West Africa. Its Bishop, Dr Martin Warner, spoke this week of the “enormity and horror” that had befallen the community. “Please pray for all victims, their relatives, and those assisting in whatever way is possible. We are keeping up to date with the situation through our local links, and will continue to do so.”
The International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, said that the Government was working to assist aid agencies on the ground, and support the government of Sierra Leone in the rescue efforts, as she expressed her condolences.
“From stopping the Ebola outbreak in its tracks to helping the country rebuild after this deadly disease, the UK continues to stand by the people of Sierra Leone. We have pre-positioned vital aid supplies and helped prepare the country’s response to disasters.”
The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, concurred: “My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected at this horrific time. We are working with the government of Sierra Leone to provide support where necessary.”