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.
As 600 people remain missing, and thousands left homeless international concerns shifted towards the recently announced fact of at least a third of the casualties of the devastating Sierra Leone mudslide being children.
Officials at Freetown’s central morgue said 105 of the more than 300 officially dead were children, and burials began on Tuesday for some of the bodies too mutilated to identify. An independent but unofficial morgue estimate put the toll at 400 dead.
The United Nations said Tuesday that it was evaluating humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone, while the first Israeli aid packages were sent and Britain pledged its support.
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 what the Red Cross says is 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 that 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.”
Speaking to AFP at the mortuary at the Connaught Hospital, technician Mohamed Sinneh Kamara said his team lacked equipment to process and identify the bodies piling up.
“We have logistical constraints including a lack of gloves, PPE (personal protective equipment) and rain boots,” he said as families gathered to identify their loved ones’ bodies.
Mabinty Sesay’s family had gone to Regent for an all-night prayer session when the church was buried in the mudslide. “I have lost 13 of my family members but was only able to identify two,” she told AFP at the morgue.
One woman collapsed after seeing her husband’s dead body among the piles of corpses, amid a powerful stench of decomposing flesh.
Adele Fox, national health coordinator for Sierra Leone for the charity Concern Worldwide, told AFP that the search for bodies continued but that survivors were facing difficult conditions.
“There is basic need for food, water, sanitation equipment and medical assistance. Since it is still the 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,” Fox said.
Hundreds of people have likely been killed in a mudslide on Monday in the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital, Vice President Victor Foh said.
“It is likely that hundreds are lying dead underneath the rubble,” Foh told Reuters at the scene of the mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, adding that a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area.
“The disaster is so serious that I myself feel broken,” he added. “We’re trying to cordon (off) the area (and) evacuate the people.”
People cried as they looked at the damage under steady rain, gesturing toward a muddy hillside where dozens of houses used to stand, a Reuters witness said.
Mudslides and floods are fairly common during the rainy season in West Africa, where deforestation and poor town planning put residents at risk.
Jeddah –Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, deputy prime minister and minister of interior, discussed with the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma means of strengthening bilateral relations in various fields, especially with regard to enhancing security cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
The meeting came as a complementary to the talks held earlier by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz with Koroma.
The meeting also reviewed the latest developments in the Middle East region, efforts exerted towards them and Saudi Arabia and Sierra Leone’s position on them.
The meeting was attended by: advisor to the Minister of Interior Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman al-Fadley, Chief of General Intelligence Khalid al-Humaidan, Deputy Director General of General Investigation Lieutenant General Abdullah al-Qarni, Vice President and Managing Director of Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) Yousef bin Ibrahim al-Bassam, Special Secretary of the Crown Prince Ahmed bin Saleh al-Ajlan and Saudi Ambassador to Guinea and Sierra Leone Suleiman bin Saleh al-Furaih.
It was also attended by the delegation accompanying Koroma: Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Samura Kamara, Minister of Finance Momodu Kargbo, Minister of Mines and Natural Resources Minkailu Mansaray, Minister of Education Minkailu Bah, Minister of Information and Communication Mohamed Bangura and Sierra Leone Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Mohamed Sillah Kargbo.
In a separate development and under the patronage of King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed, who is also the chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee, will open in Madinah the symposium on Hajj and Umrah on May 17.
The symposium will be organized at Taibah University by the Makkah-based Umm al-Qura University.
Rector of Umm Al-Qura University, Bakri Assas, who is also the dean of the center of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for Hajj and Umrah researches, lauded the excellent services provided to Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.
The center was able over four decades to conduct hundreds of studies, provide hundreds of projects and hold dozens of meetings and forums, which were entirely aimed at serving pilgrims and pilgrimage.
“The Kingdom has dedicated all of its human and technological potential in the service of pilgrims and visitors,” Assas said in order to attract researchers and experts from all universities and those interested in studying Hajj and Umrah.
He pointed out that the efforts of the Institute are part of the activity of Umm al-Qura University in serving Hajj, Umrah and “Ziyara”, which is inspired from the efforts of the Saudi government in serving the pilgrims.
Dean of the center Sami Barhameen said the scientific committee of the symposium has approved 112 out of 269 research papers to be discussed during eight sessions, averaging 46 papers every day.
“All the papers have been thoroughly checked, evaluated and endorsed by the scientific committee according to the international standards,” he said.
Bahrameen said the symposium will focus on a number of themes including Hajj jurisprudence, issues pertaining to Umrah, crowd management, economy, architecture, environment, health, media, technology and its applications and the impact of new projects and initiatives in the promotion of Hajj services.
He said the symposium will also discuss the participation of the public in serving pilgrims and visitors to Madinah.
Jeddah – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz held official talks with President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma on bilateral relations and means of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Sierra Leone in different fields.
At the outset of the session, the President granted the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques the Medal of Honor in recognition of his efforts in safeguarding world peace and defending Islam.
The session was attended by Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Governor of Makkah Region Prince Khalid al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Minister of State Prince Mansour bin Miteb bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Minister of State and Member of the Cabinet Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz al-Assaf, Minister of Culture and Information Awad bin Saleh al-Awad, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nizar bin Obaid Madani, and Saudi Ambassador to Guinea and Sierra Leone Suleiman bin Saleh al-Furaih.
It was also attended by the delegation accompanying Koroma: Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Samura Kamara, Minister of Finance Momodu Kargbo, Minister of Mines and Natural Resources Minkailu Mansaray, Minister of Education Minkailu Bah, Minister of Information and Communication Mohamed Bangura, and Sierra Leone Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Mohamed Sillah Kargbo.
Koroma arrived to the Kingdom earlier on Sunday and he was received by Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Governor of Makkah Region Prince Khalid al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior, according to Saudi Press Agency.
An official reception ceremony was held for the Sierra Leonean president, the national anthems of the two countries were played, and he reviewed the Guard of Honor.
At King Abdulaziz International Airport, he was received by Deputy Governor of Makkah region Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh al-Awwad and a number of officials.
Later, King Salman held a luncheon banquet in honor of the president and his accompanying delegation.
The reception and the banquet were attended by a number of princes.
Koroma met at his residence in Jeddah Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Governor of Makkah region Prince Khalid al-Faisal, SPA stated.
During the meeting, the Prince welcomed the president, wishing him a pleasant stay in the Kingdom. For his part, the president expressed his thanks and appreciation for the warm welcome and generous hospitality accorded to him.
The meeting was attended by the Minister of Culture and Information.
At his residence also, the president received OIC Secretary General Yousef al-Othaimeen.
During the meeting, the Secretary General briefed on the current state of bilateral relations between the OIC and Sierra Leone on political, economic, social, humanitarian and cultural issues.
While expressing appreciation to the OIC for its constant support for Sierra Leone, Koroma underscored the important role of OIC in ensuring peaceful resolution of crises in OIC Member States, including Africa as well as combatting terrorism and violent extremism.
On modalities for consolidating existing relations, both sides expressed their commitments to forge closer collaboration between their senior officials, with a view to examining all areas of mutual interests.
Koroma also held a meeting with Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nizar bin Obaid Madani. During the meeting, they discussed bilateral relations and ways to promote them, in addition to issues of mutual interest.
The reception was attended by the Saudi Ambassador to Sierra Leone.
Minister al-Awwad met with Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information and Communications Mohamed Bangura. The two discussed a number of issues of common interest as well as means of enhancing cooperation between the two countries in the fields of culture and media.
Freetown- A pastor working in the mines of eastern Sierra Leone has unearthed a 706-carat diamond.
The diamond was presented to President Ernest Bai Koroma late Wednesday before being locked in Freetown’s central bank vault. It awaits an official valuation under the Kimberley Process, which certifies diamonds as “conflict-free”.
It will then be sold in Sierra Leone under a transparent bidding process, a government statement said, thanking the chief of the Tankoro area where the stone was found for not smuggling it out of the country.
Without a professional assessment of the diamond’s potential flaws and coloring it is impossible to value the stone.
A 1,111-carat diamond was discovered at a mine in Botswana in 2015, the biggest find for more than a century.
That gem is second in size only to the Cullinan diamond which was unearthed in South Africa in 1905, at 3,106 carats uncut, according to the Cape Town Diamond Museum.
London, Reuters—A British nurse being treated for Ebola in London is in a critical condition after deteriorating over the last two days, her hospital said on Saturday.
The Royal Free Hospital has been treating Pauline Cafferkey, 39, with blood plasma from an Ebola survivor and an experimental anti-viral drug.
She was diagnosed with Ebola on Monday after returning to Britain late on Sunday from Sierra Leone, where she had been working for the charity Save the Children at a treatment center outside the capital, Freetown.
Cafferkey is the first person to have been diagnosed with Ebola on British soil.
The West African Ebola outbreak was first identified in Guinea’s remote southeast in early 2014. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have borne the brunt of the 20,000 infections and nearly 8,000 dead.
The Royal Free, Britain’s main center for Ebola cases, successfully treated British aid worker William Pooley with the experimental drug ZMapp after he was flown back to Britain in August.
The hospital has not specified which drug Cafferkey is being treated with, but said no supplies of ZMapp were available.
On Wednesday, the hospital had said Cafferkey was sitting up in bed, talking and reading. But a doctor treating her warned at the time that the course of the disease could be unpredictable.
Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, and the hospital said it was treating Cafferkey inside a specially designed tent around her bed with controlled ventilation to reduce the risk of further infections.
Washington, AP—An experimental Ebola vaccine appears safe and triggered signs of immune protection in the first 20 volunteers to test it, US researchers reported Wednesday.
The vaccine is designed to spur the immune system’s production of anti-Ebola antibodies, and people developed them within four weeks of getting the shots at the National Institutes of Health. Half of the test group received a higher-dose shot, and those people produced more antibodies, said the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Some people also developed a different set of virus-fighting immune cells, named T cells, the study found. That may be important in fending off Ebola, as prior research found that monkeys protected by the vaccine also had that combination response.
Stimulating both types of immune response is “a promising factor,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose employees led the work.
The researchers reported no serious side effects. But two people who received the higher-dose vaccine briefly spiked fevers, one above 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius), which disappeared within a day.
Earlier this month, Fauci told Congress this first-stage testing was promising enough that the US planned much larger studies in West Africa, starting in Liberia in early January, to try to prove whether the vaccine really works.
Scientists are racing to develop ways to prevent or treat the virus that has killed more than 5,600 people in West Africa, most of them in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Wednesday’s publication offered scientific details about the initial testing of the vaccine candidate furthest along, one being developed by NIH and GlaxoSmithKline. Additional safety studies are underway here and abroad. A different Canadian-made vaccine also has begun small safety studies.
Many questions remain as larger studies are being designed, including the best dose and how soon protection may begin, cautioned Dr. Daniel Bausch, a Tulane University Ebola specialist who wasn’t involved in the study. Plus, monkey research suggests a booster shot will be needed for long-term protection.
“The road is still long and there are many challenges but we are nevertheless one step closer to a solution,” he wrote in an accompanying editorial.
Washington and Sydney, Reuters—The US military has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa, and Australia became the first rich nation to impose a visa ban on the affected countries amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.
The latest measures, along with decisions by some US states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning home from treating Ebola victims in West Africa, have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.
The top health official in charge of dealing with Washington’s response to Ebola warned against turning doctors and nurses who travel to West Africa to tackle Ebola into “pariahs.”
The Ebola outbreak has killed nearly 5,000 people since March, the vast majority in West Africa, but nine Ebola cases in the United States have caused alarm, and states such as New York and New Jersey have ignored federal advice by introducing their own strict controls.
The United Nations on Monday sharply criticized the new restrictions imposed by some US states on health workers returning home from the affected West African states of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
“Returning health workers are exceptional people who are giving of themselves for humanity,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said. “They should not be subjected to restrictions that are not based on science. Those who develop infections should be supported, not stigmatized.”
American soldiers returning from West Africa are also being isolated, even though they showed no symptoms of infection and were not believed to have been exposed to the deadly virus, officials said on Monday.
In a statement, the Army said Chief-of-Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno ordered the 21-day monitoring period for returning soldiers “to ensure soldiers, family members and their surrounding communities are confident that we are taking all steps necessary to protect their health.”
The army isolated about a dozen soldiers on their return during the weekend to their home base in Vicenza, Italy. That included Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, the commander of US Army Africa, who oversaw the military’s initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
“We are billeted in a separate area [on the base]. There’s no contact with the general population or with family. No-one will be walking around Vicenza,” Williams told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The US military has repeatedly stressed that its personnel are not interacting with Ebola patients and are instead building treatment units to help health authorities battle the epidemic. Up to 4,000 US troops may be deployed on the mission.
“From a public health perspective, we would not feel that isolation is appropriate,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Washington State epidemiologist and chairman of the Public Health Committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
The decision goes well beyond previously established military protocols and came just as President Barack Obama’s administration sought to discourage precautionary quarantines being imposed by some US states on healthcare workers returning from countries battling Ebola.
US federal health officials on Monday revamped guidelines for doctors and nurses returning from West Africa, stopping well short of controversial mandatory quarantines.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), called for isolation of people at the highest risk for Ebola infection but said most medical workers returning from the three countries at the center of the epidemic would require daily monitoring without isolation.
“At CDC, we base our decisions on science and experience. We base our decisions on what we know and what we learn. And as the science and experience changes, we adopt and adapt our guidelines and recommendations,” Frieden said.
The Obama administration’s new guidelines are not mandatory, and states will have the right to put in place policies that are more strict. Some state officials, grappling with an unfamiliar public health threat, had called federal restrictions placed on people traveling from Ebola-affected countries insufficient to protect Americans and have imposed tougher measures.
Australia on Monday issued a blanket ban on visas from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa to prevent the disease reaching the country, becoming the first rich nation to shut its doors to the region.
Australia has not recorded a case of Ebola despite a number of scares, and conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has so far resisted repeated requests to send medical personnel to help battle the outbreak on the ground.
The decision to refuse entry for anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, while touted by the government as a necessary safety precaution, was criticized by experts and advocates as politically motivated and shortsighted.
Adam Kamradt-Scott, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, said the ban would do nothing to protect the country from Ebola while potentially having a negative public health impact by unduly raising fears and creating a general climate of panic.
Medical professionals say Ebola is difficult to catch and is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and not transmitted by asymptomatic people; it is not airborne.
There has been a growing chorus of critics, including public health experts, the United Nations, medical charities and even the White House, denouncing mandatory quarantines as scientifically unjustified and an obstacle to fighting the disease at its source in West Africa.
“Anything that will dissuade foreign trained personnel from coming here to West Africa and joining us on the frontline to fight the fight would be very, very unfortunate,” Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Ebola Emergency Response Mission (UNMEER), told Reuters in the Ghanian capital Accra. He said that health workers returning to their own countries should be treated as heroes.
Bamako, Reuters—A two-year-old girl who was Mali’s first case of Ebola died on Friday, shortly after the World Health Organization warned that many people had potentially been exposed to the virus because she was taken across the country while ill.
The girl had travelled with her grandmother hundreds of miles by bus from Guinea via Mali’s capital to the western town of Kayes, where she was diagnosed on Thursday. Health workers were scrambling to trace hundreds of potential contacts in a bid to prevent Ebola taking hold in Mali.
The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed 4,900 people, mainly in nearby Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. A global response to the epidemic is being rolled out but experts warn that tens of thousands more people are at risk.
In a statement on Friday night, Mali’s government confirmed the death of the girl, who has not been identified.
“In this moment of sadness, the government would like to express its condolences to her family and reminds the population that maintain very strict hygiene rules remains the best way to contain this disease,” it said.
Mali is the sixth West African nation to record a case of Ebola. Senegal and Nigeria have successfully contained outbreaks and has been declared free of the disease. Spain and the United States have had a few cases.
Diplomatic sources have expressed concern about the preparedness of Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, to contain an outbreak. Home to a large UN peacekeeping mission, the mostly Muslim country is still battling northern Islamist militants after a brief French-led war last year.
WHO said that an investigation into the girl’s case revealed that she had already started showing symptoms—and was therefore contagious—before being taken to Kayes.
“WHO is treating the situation in Mali as an emergency,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“The child’s symptomatic state during the bus journey is especially concerning, as it presented multiple opportunities for exposures—including high-risk exposures—involving many people,” it added.
The girl was seen by health workers on October 20 in Kayes but was referred to another hospital the next day where she tested positive for typhoid but was also bleeding from her nose. It was not until October 23 that she tested positive for Ebola, WHO said.
WHO said that 43 contacts had been identified and isolated but a second Malian health official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that authorities estimated that at least 300 people had been in contact with the infected child.
Hours before Mali confirmed the case on Thursday, WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda said the agency had “reasonable confidence” that there was not widespread transmission of the Ebola virus into neighboring countries.
WHO and Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, which has helped run much of the response to Ebola, were both scrambling teams to Mali on Friday. A UN plane flew one tonne of medical supplies—including personnel protection equipment kits, gloves, face shields and buckets—to the country.
On the dusty streets of the capital Bamako, residents voiced alarm at the girl having spent time in the city’s Bagadadji district before travelling on Sunday to Kayes, some 400 miles to the northwest near the Senegalese border.
“I am afraid because, with my job, I am in permanent contact with people but I can’t afford to just stop,” said taxi driver Hamidou Bamba, 46, in Bamako. “Today is Friday so let us pray to Allah that this disease will not spread in Mali.”
Mali, together with cocoa producer Ivory Coast, has put in place border controls to stop Ebola at its frontiers. However, a visit to Mali’s border with Guinea by Reuters this month showed vehicles avoiding a health checkpoint set up by Malian authorities by simply driving through the bush.
Ivory Coast was on alert after Guinean authorities informed them that a Guinean health worker had slipped surveillance and headed for the border after a patient had contracted Ebola.
Raymonde Goudou Coffie, Ivory Coast’s health minister, said the authorities did not know if the medic had Ebola but had to be traced as he had been in contact with someone who had.