Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma attended a mass burial after at least 461 people were killed in a massive mudslide. The country is also planning evacuations in preparation for more possible mudslides.
Photo by Ernest Henry/EPA
Aug. 19 (UPI) -- At least 461 people are now confirmed dead in a mudslide this week in Sierra Leone, with the number of the dead expected to rise.
President Ernest Bai Koroma attended a mass burial for the victims, about a third of which were children, at a cemetery outside Freetown as the Red Cross said about 600 people remained missing.
"Bodies are still coming," a morgue official told the Telegraph.
A night of heavy rain on Monday in the town of Regent caused the widespread flooding and mudslides that swept away homes and ultimately resulted in hundreds of deaths throughout the week.
Presidential spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay said about 20,000 people have been displaced by the mudslides, including 5,000 children.
Some residents have reported skin infections from the water they have been washing in and the country also faces other medical threats in the form of cholera and malaria.
Deputy Health Minister Madina Rahman pleaded for international support, telling CNN that Sierra Leone is unable to handle the crisis alone.
"The number of people dead is changing every day," she said. "We have just done a census recently, and we are working with the statistics office to see how many people are on that site and how many people are unaccounted for and how many people were dead and buried."
Evacuations are being prepared in other hillside areas, as authorities expect more heavy rain that could cause additional landslides.
"Evacuation is being discussed. Some have been happening but not on a large scale," Cultural Affairs Minister Sidie Yahya Tunis said. "At this point, more hands are needed on deck, both locally and internationally. The gravity is huge, and the magnitude is just so much for this nation to handle. I pray that other countries will come in to assist."
Citizens offered private donations of food, clothing and other items, while the United Kingdom offered an initial $6.4 million emergency support to provide clean drinking water, food and medicine through UNICEF.