Soldiers and volunteers with shovels and picks dug through the perilous site of a mudslide in Sierra Leone overnight in search of hundreds of bodies believed still buried days after the disaster.
About 600 people are missing after a torrent of mud on Monday swept away homes on the edge of the capital, Freetown, the Red Cross said, in one of Africa’s worst flood disasters in living memory. Some 400 bodies have been found.
Aid agencies warned that corpses trapped in the mud are likely to contaminate water sources and cause outbreaks of disease, but continuous rain has made the search difficult and dangerous.
“The topography of this area is not easily accessible, but as military we continue to make headway,” Colonel Abu Bakarr Bah, who is leading a search team near the town of Regent, where part of a mountainside collapsed, said.
Local construction companies have loaned excavators but many volunteers are digging with household tools and whatever else they can find, Red Cross spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said.
“We fear there are no more survivors,” he said. “All yesterday no one living was found.”
The government was preparing to bury 300 bodies today, government spokesman Cornelius Deveaux said. A mass burial of 150 took place earlier this week, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
Families were summoned to the central morgue yesterday to identify relatives, but many were unable to and officials were forced to proceed with the burial because the corpses were decomposing in the heat.
They will be buried at a cemetery outside Freetown that was used during the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak, which killed 4000 people in the former British colony.
Forty people were killed in another landslide overnight in a fishing village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, said Pacifique Keta, the deputy governor of Ituri province, adding a search was under way for bodies buried in mud.
The exact cause of the disaster about 80km from the city of Bunia was unclear, but seismic and volcanic activity have caused a number of landslides in the region in recent years. Reuters