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Sierra Leone to hold mass burial for mudslide victims

Government of Sierra Leone is expected to hold mass burials on Tuesday for the majority of corpses of victims in the devastating mudslide which had claimed nearly 300 lives, sources close to the government told Xinhua.

It is unclear whether the mass burial is meant to free up space for more bodies in the central morgue, but Sulaiman Zainu Parker, environment officer at the Freetown City Council said the disaster had killed some entire families and there is nobody to identify them.

Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma was in the disaster-hit area Tuesday morning and communicated with rescue teams on disaster relief.

Witnesses said the president looked grief-stricken.

Koroma said in an address broadcast on television late Monday that an emergency response center had been set up in the town of Regent, which is worst hit.

No fewer than 286 people have died after a devastating mudslide struck an area on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital city Freetown, Sinneh Kamara, an official in charge at the Connaught Hospital’s mortuary said on Tuesday.

Kamara said that a total of 280 bodies had been brought to the facility, while the ambulance has just left to collect six more bodies that were discovered on Tuesday morning.

At present, mortuary staff are busy placing corpses in body bags.

The number of survivors still remains unknown but sources at the Connaught said about 20 survivors with severe injuries are currently responding to treatment.

Head of Operation of the Sierra Leone police, Al-Sheik Kamara said many people are still buried under the rubbles and excavators are removing debris to discover more bodies.

The police officer said seven more survivors at Mount Sugar Loaf where the mudslide occurred were rescued on Tuesday.

So far, the government has not yet released official figures regarding the death toll as rescue work is under way.

Xinhua correspondent at the scene said the weather remains cloudy on Tuesday morning, stoking fears of more rain that could impede rescue work. Meteorological authorities in Freetown said on Tuesday the area could expect more rain toward the end of the day.

Aminata Kamara, a relative of the victims, is wailing as she said she lost 21 members of her extended family.

Some of the bodies are unidentifiable because of the severe damage.

Wang Bo, a staff member of China Railway Seventh Group who works in the West African country, told Xinhua that his company has dispatched two excavators to the site upon request by the Sierra Leonean side to help with rescue.

“A total of 35 staff members of our company were quickly mobilized and dispatched for the rescue,” Wang said.

He said that the mudslide which occurred Monday had been triggered by heavy rain amounting to 220 millimeters which started since the early hours of Monday.

“As August is the peak rain season in Sierra Leone, the rains as well as heavy crowds and vehicles are making it very difficult for the vehicles to travel on the muddy roads leading up to the rescue site,” Wang said,.

He said that his colleagues later abandoned the vehicles and made it to the site on foot. (NAN)

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