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Friday, August 18, 2017



Sierra Leone hasn't recovered yet from the Ebola epidemic which hit the country in 2014

The death toll from devastating floods in Sierra Leone has climbed to more than 400 people with hundreds still missing in the stricken capital.

Burials and recovery efforts continued on Friday amid the threat of further disaster.

The Red Cross put the death toll at 409 after flooding and mudslides shook Freetown on Monday morning.

"Today we are counting more than 400 people dead," Elhadj As Sy, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told reporters in Geneva.

Jens Laerke, the spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva, said the toll "may rise", noting the number of people still missing.

The UN humanitarian agency said it still hopes to find survivors "but the chances are getting smaller every day."

Large-scale burials have begun as an estimated 600 people remain missing. People continue to search through tons of mud and debris amid the remains of mangled buildings.

Sobbing and covering their noses from the stench, relatives stepped around corpses lying on the ground outside the morgue, which was overwhelmed, as the sheets covering them were lifted.

"I came to identify my uncle in particular, but I couldn't find him," said 30-year-old Hawanatu Sesay, after her turn came to look through the morgue.

"Let his soul rest in peace," she said through tears.

At least 100 children killed

Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris, reporting from Freetown, said some people have lost hope in finding the bodies of their relatives.

"There is that sense of hope among people that some of the bodies can be found and will be given a decent burial, but there are also people who have lost hope that their relatives have been buried without a proper procedure," he said.

"We are talking about hundreds of people who are missing, so the operation now will be focused on the areas that were destroyed by the mudslide."

More than 300 victims were buried on Thursday in a ceremony in the nearby town of Waterloo, laid to rest alongside victims of the country's last crisis, Ebola. Around a third of them were children.

"The water took away my mother and sister and they have buried them today. That's why we are here, to mourn and go back home," said one survivor, Zainab Kargbo.

'Strength and resilience'

Musa Kallon, a trauma support expert working with the CRS, shared stories of devastation with Al Jazeera after he visited Kamayama community on the outskirts of Freetown.

"Most of the people I spoke with today are the sole surviving members of their family," Kallon said.

"People are really traumatized. I spoke to one lady who lost almost her entire family during the Ebola crisis. Her only surviving daughter passed away in these floods." 

Many were unable to find loved ones as victims were too decomposed to be identified [Reuters]

Many were unable to find loved ones as victims were too decomposed to be identified [Reuters]

Kallon and Amaya stressed that despite poverty and waves of trauma that have afflicted Sierra Leoneans, the "strength and resilience" of people has offered some optimism.

"Christians and Muslims regardless of what faith they are, they have come together to help dig out people from the mud, provide clothes and shelter to those who are most affected, particularly women and children," Amaya said. "They are strong and banding together."

The Red Cross said it will launch an emergency funding appeal later on Friday.

China has pledged $1m, Togo has donated $500,000, and Israel and several west African nations have contributed food and cash.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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