Mass burials being held for Sierra Leone mudslide victims
Mass burials are being held on the outskirts of the Sierra Leone capital Freetown for the 400 people known to have died in a mudslide and flooding.
President Ernest Bai Koroma is expected to join Christian and Muslim religious leaders for a ceremony at the site, in the nearby city of Waterloo, later.
The search continues for an estimated 600 people still missing since Monday.
Some 3,000 people are homeless in what is being described as a humanitarian emergency.
Mortuaries have been overwhelmed by the number of bodies they have received – more than 100 of them are children.
With concern mounting about an outbreak of disease, the chief pathologist of Freetown, Dr Simeon Owizz Koroma, said the burials had already begun for those who had been identified or whose bodies were badly decomposed.
They have been taken to a mass grave in Waterloo known as the Ebola cemetery after the 2014 disease outbreak, which killed nearly 4,000 people in the country.
Mr Koroma told the BBC that the number of bodies he had certified was “approaching the 350 marker. But we’re still expecting more coming, yes…. up to a month or two months, and I believe some are buried with the collapse of masonry, buildings”.
Homes in the hilltop community of Regent were covered after part of Sugar Loaf mountain collapsed following heavy rain early on Monday. Many victims were asleep in bed when disaster struck.
Bereaved families have been gathering outside the mortuaries – some carrying pictures of their relatives – in the hope of identifying their lost loved ones.
Sorrie Koroma is searching for his missing 12-year-old daughter, along with his sister and her five children who were staying with them for the school holidays. “I need to see my daughter’s body just so my life can continue,” he told the BBC.
President Koroma, who has visited the stricken area, said “entire communities have been wiped out” and called on the international community to provide “urgent support”.
Sierra Leone began a week of mourning on Wednesday.
The EU has pledged 300,000 euros (£270,000), and Carlos Martin Ruiz De Gordejuela of the European Commission said the money would go to humanitarian organizations to ensure it reached those most in need.
The Red Cross has warned it is a race against time to find survivors. The search is taking place using diggers and makeshift tools.
Flooding is not unusual in Sierra Leone, where unsafe housing in makeshift settlements can be swept away by heavy rains.
The rains often hit areas in and around Freetown, an overcrowded coastal city of more than one million people.
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