600 still fear missing in Sierra Leone floods and landslides

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Free Town (Sierra Leone): Concern shifted Wednesday to the estimated 600 people still missing and thousands made homeless in Sierra Leone by deadly floods in the capital, as aid groups scrambled to coordinate a response.

The United Nations said Tuesday it was evaluating humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone, while the first Israeli aid packages were sent and Britain pledged its support.

With morgues overwhelmed with bodies, burials began on Tuesday for some of the bodies too mutilated to identify.

President Ernest Bai Koroma fought back tears on Tuesday as he visited the devastated hilltop community of Regent, saying the scale of the challenge ahead was “overwhelming us”.

“Entire communities have been wiped out,” Koroma said. “We need urgent support now.”

The government of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has promised relief to more than 3,000 people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and registration centres to count those left on the streets.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York the UN country team was “supporting national authorities in rescue operations, helping evacuate residents, providing medical assistance to the injured, registering survivors, and providing food rations, water and dignity kits to those affected.”

The Red Cross says 600 people are still missing, while more than 300 are already confirmed dead.

From shock to anger; Adele Fox, national health coordinator for Sierra Leone for the charity Concern Worldwide, told AFP that the search for bodies continued but the survivors were facing difficult conditions.

“There is basic need for food, water, sanitation equipment and medical assistance. Since it is still rainy season, further flooding is also a possibility,” she warned.

The sentiment among those in the disaster areas had shifted from shock and grief to anger at what is an annual problem in Freetown, though never before on this scale.

“There is some frustration over the regularity of flooding and destruction during the rainy season and its effects,” she said.

‘Wake-up call’ : Society 4 Climate Change Communication (S4CCC), a local environment group, has called the tragedy a “wake-up call”.

Deforestation, a lack of urban planning and vulnerability to climate change had all played a part, it said.

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