Sierra Leone mudslides: President urges calm as rescuers dig for survivors

Left, Part of the hillside swept down by the rains; Centre and right, Flooded streets in Regent near Freetown on August 14, 2017. PHOTOS | KEMO CHAM | AFP 

Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma has called for unity as the country faces one of the worst natural disasters to hit the capital Freetown.

In an televised address to the nation late Monday, President Koroma assured citizens that emergency services were doing all they could after heavy flooding and mudslides left more than 300 people dead and over 2,000 lost their homes.

"This tragedy of great magnitude has once again challenged us to come together, to stand by each other and to help one another," he said, appealing to a country still recovering from the catastrophic effects of deadly Ebola outbreak.

The President urged those living in areas prone to mudslides to move to safer grounds. He announced that an emergency response centre had been set up at Regent, the worst-affected area.

Torrential rains, that lasted more than 20 hours, led to flooding and collapse of a hillside in Regent, a mountainous town about 24km east of Freetown, submerging houses and sweeping away others.

Many of the victims were asleep when the disaster struck.

Downtown, in the Lumley West area of the city, corpses could be seen floating in the water.

President Koroma said two centres have been set up in the city to register those left homeless.

He praised the Red Cross volunteers, fire force, military and police for their response in tracing and digging up those trapped.

The government is yet to give an official casualty figure, but hospital sources and emergency aid agencies say that more than 300 people have been killed.

"Let me urge everyone to remain calm and to avoid disaster-prone areas while we continue to address this grave emergency," he said.

The president’s address came shortly after he chaired an emergency cabinet meeting to address the situation.

Deputy Information Minister Cornelius Deveaux, at a press briefing earlier, termed the incident as "a tragedy unprecedented in history of the country."

He said hundreds of people had lost their lives with some of the most affected areas including Kroo Bay and Big Wharf slums.

He promised food and other assistance for the victims.

Freetown, an overcrowded coastal city of 1.2 million, is hit each year by flooding during several months of rain that destroys makeshift settlements and raises the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera.

-Additional reporting from Agencies.

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