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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

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

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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Daylight Turns Plastic Sheet into Germ-Killing Material

A health worker sprays a colleague with disinfectant during a training session for Congolese health workers to deal with Ebola virus in Kinshasa, Oct. 21, 2014. The process of removing the full-body protective suit is a prime opportunity for infection if the surface of the gear is contaminated. VOA

Daylight-powered microbe-killing masks and suits may someday help protect health workers from deadly germs like Ebola, according to new research.

Scientists have developed membranes that produce a tiny bit of disinfecting hydrogen peroxide when exposed to light. They could find their way into food packaging as well, the researchers say, helping cut down on foodborne diseases.

The research is published in the journal Science Advances.

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“If there’s any live bacteria or virus on the surface, it’s still transmissible and could cause infection,” said University of California, Davis, researcher Gang Sun. Pexels

Nearly 500 health workers died during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Front-line caregivers wear full-body protective suits when they come into contact with patients with virulent diseases, but the process of removing the gear is a prime opportunity for infection if the surface is contaminated.

Sun and colleagues developed membranes that could line the outside of that protective gear. When exposed to daylight, molecules on the surface of these membranes react with oxygen in the air to produce small amounts of hydrogen peroxide — less than what you’d use to remove laundry stains, but enough to kill germs, according to Sun.

“The approach is quite novel,” said University of Maryland food scientist Rohan Tikekar, who was not involved with this research. He says others have developed materials that produce disinfecting chemicals, but most only work under high-energy ultraviolet light. Pexels

ALSO READ: “Plastic Ocean”: The Film focusses on Plastics in the Oceans that is harming Marine Life

The new membrane also works in the dark, for at least an hour or two, thanks to chemical properties that recharge its germ-killing powers.

“That is a really significant improvement,” Tikekar added.

In addition to coating protective gear for health workers, Sun says adding a layer of this material to fresh-produce packaging could reduce contamination and prolong storage life.

Some versions of the material use natural compounds. Sun says one of the next steps is to make it edible. VOA