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600 Remain Missing as Death Toll from Sierra Leone Mudslides Passes 400 | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Search and rescue team members and soldiers work near a mudslide site and a damaged building near Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Tuesday. (AFP)

The death toll from floods and consequent mudslides in Sierra Leone has passed 400, while some 600 people are still unaccounted for, announced the Red Cross on Friday.

“Today we are counting more than 400 people dead,” the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, Elhadj As Sy, told reporters in Geneva.

An unofficial morgue toll had previously put the toll at around 400 dead, but the figure had not been officially confirmed.

Sy said the government of the West African country was facing a crisis “way beyond (its) capacity” and appealed to the international community to significantly ramp up its support. The Red Cross said it will launch an emergency funding appeal later on Friday.

The displaced are still sleeping outside “because there are not enough shelters for everybody,” he said.

Responding to the crisis that began on Monday will require “a combination of efforts from all people,” he added.

Thousands of people have lost their homes. Some critics accuse the government of not learning from past disasters in a city where many poor areas are near sea level and lack good drainage. The capital is also plagued by unregulated construction on its hillsides.

President Ernest Bai Koroma joined mourners for burials on Thursday. Many people have been unable to find loved ones as many victims were too mangled and decomposed to be identified, but the government has vowed to hold respectful burials for all.

“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.

The main focus is getting people away from areas still under threat, Zuliatu Cooper, the deputy minister of health and sanitation, told The Associated Press.

“The rains are still pending and there is a possibility that we will have another incident,” he said.

The government has warned residents to evacuate a mountainside where a large crack has opened. Rainfall remains in the forecast for the coming days, slowing recovery efforts and bringing the threat of further mudslides.

The government has hired 600 gravediggers for burials in a cemetery that holds victims of the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak that killed thousands in the country.

Later on Friday, Britain said it is providing 5 million pounds ($6.4 million) in emergency aid to the Sierra Leone victims.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel announced “the international community must follow our lead” to save lives in the impoverished West African nation. The country is a former British colony.