(PNS) The search for bodies and survivors continues in the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown following heavy rains, flooding and mudslides. More than 300 people are known to have died after walls of mud crashed into homes and businesses during the early morning hours on Monday.
Hundreds are still missing and thousands have been left homeless in the impoverished areas of the city which sits at sea level. A makeshift morgue is filled and government hospitals are at capacity.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has been in communication with Christian Aid and Council of Churches in Sierra Leone regarding emergency relief and humanitarian response.
“I have spoken with several of our partners there to find out what was going on,” said Luke Asikoye, PDA’s associate for international disaster response. “We still don’t know the total extent of the damage but a lot of people died.”
Flooding is common during the rainy season in Sierra Leone, but authorities say this eight-hour deluge was unexpected.
“The rains came in the middle of the night and most people were asleep,” said Asikoye. “The death toll is much higher because the people were unaware.”
Asikoye lived in Sierra Leone before joining the staff at the Presbyterian Mission Agency. He says hillside development likely contributed to the mudslides.
“As many as 1.2 million people live in Freetown and as a result, many people built homes along the hillsides, clearing out the trees,” he said. “Once the trees were cut, it created space for the mudslides to start. Once you’ve removed the trees, you become vulnerable. It makes me sad because these are the types of disasters that could have been avoided.”
Adding to the problem is the risk of diseases such as cholera. Disease is no stranger to the west African nation. In 2014, there was an outbreak of the Ebola virus, which resulted in more than 4,000 deaths.
PDA, the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP), and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) are partners in the West Africa Initiative, a project aimed at supporting and strengthening rural communities’ capacity to become self-reliant and independent organizations. The communities are engaged in all aspects of food production, as well as the economic and social well-being of its members. The initiative covers several remote communities in both Sierra Leone and Liberia.
A PC(USA) delegation visited the two west African countries last February to review progress and meet with residents in the remote villages.
by Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service