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Mudslide Disaster in Africa: Bodies Were ‘Just Being Washed’ Away, Says an Aid Worker of Sierra Leone

Bodies continue to arrive at Freetown's overwhelmed central morgue, with corpses laid on the floor and the ground outside

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Sierra Leone
People wearing protective suits hold hands as they cross a river after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone, Aug. 15, 2017, in this still image taken from a video. VOA
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When aid worker Idalia Amaya arrived at the scene of the mudslide that devastated Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, she was horrified to find homes washed away, entire villages engulfed by mud, and corpses floating down the streets.

“Bodies were just being washed down streams … so many people were crying and wailing,” said Amaya, an emergency response coordinator for Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

“It was a horrible sight — it was devastating,” the U.S. aid worker told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone on Wednesday, two days after witnessing the mud’s deadly fallout.

A mountainside collapsed on Monday morning in the town of Regent, burying dozens of homes as people slept and killing at least 400. Women and children were hit the hardest in what is one of Africa’s deadliest mudslides in decades.

FILE - People inspect the damage after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone, Aug. 14, 2017.
FILE – People inspect the damage after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone, Aug. 14, 2017. VOA

Rescue workers have uncovered about 400 bodies so far, but that number is likely to surpass 500 as the search persists, Freetown’s chief coroner Seneh Dumbuya said Tuesday.

“The chance of finding more survivors is slim to none,” Amaya said. “It is so difficult to search in the mud.”

“A lot of victims were women and children, as men had left for work early in the morning. It is heartbreaking to see fathers and husbands who have lost all of their relatives.”

At least 3,000 people have been left homeless — and urgently need food, shelter and health care — while another 600 are missing, according to the Red Cross.

ALSO READ: UN: Most Deaths From Natural Disasters Occur in Poor Countries 

“Many people are reliving trauma they suffered during Ebola,” said Amaya, referring to the world’s worst recorded outbreak of the disease, which ravaged the former British colony from 2014 to 2016, infecting 14,000 people and killing 4,000.

“They are working around the clock to dig out survivors, support those in need, and make the best of the situation,” Amaya added. “I am struck by the resilience of people who have been through civil war, Ebola and deadly floods.”

Bodies continue to arrive at Freetown’s overwhelmed central morgue, with corpses laid on the floor and the ground outside.

The authorities and aid agencies are preparing to bury the dead in several Freetown cemeteries in coming days, CRS said.

As hundreds of people queued outside the morgue, Amaya said Freetown was struggling to come to terms with its latest disaster.

“It still feels very raw,” she said. “But people are coming together, grieving together, and starting the healing process.”(VOA)

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Ebola Not A Global Health Emergency: WHO

WHO advised DRC's nine neighboring countries that they were at high risk of having the disease spread into their territories

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An emergency committee convened by the World Health Organization has decided that the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern.

The WHO said Wednesday that 216 cases of Ebola and 139 deaths had been reported, and its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee said the outbreak was a matter of serious concern, especially since it is occurring in an area of conflict in eastern DRC. It said this posed problems for health workers who need to move around freely and track people who are infected with the virus and need treatment.

But the committee said that one reason it did not regard the outbreak as a global threat was that the virus had not spread into neighboring countries.

Congo,ebola
A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a boy who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

Committee Chairman Robert Steffan said the international response to the outbreak had been very good. He said WHO and other agencies had achieved quite a lot since the outbreak was declared Aug. 1. In fact, he said the disease was being brought under control in North Kivu province.

The disease is flaring up in another province, and the response is being concentrated in this area, he said, “so we do have some optimism that this outbreak, just like the one in May, will be brought under control within reasonable time.”

Steffan said the committee agreed that declaring an international emergency at this time would hinder efforts to contain the Ebola virus. He said a declaration would have implications for travel and trade, making it difficult for needed experts and supplies to access the affected areas.

Ebola, WHO
A health care worker from the World Health Organization, left, gives an Ebola vaccination to a front line aid worker who will then vaccinate people who might potentially have the virus, in Mbandaka, Congo. VOA

However, as a precaution, WHO recommended exit screenings, including at airports, ports and land crossings. But it noted that entry screenings, particularly in distant airports, would have no public health benefit and would be costly.

Also Read: North Kivu And Ituri, Congo To Welcome More Than 80,000 Children In This New School Year

WHO advised DRC’s nine neighboring countries that they were at high risk of having the disease spread into their territories, and it said it was supporting them with equipment and personnel. It said these preparedness activities were expensive and would require substantial financial support from the international community. (VOA)