Tragedy in Sierra Leone: Mudslide and Flooding

By Jacqui Boulton

Many of you have been asking about the situation in Freetown. As I write it is just over a week since the tragic mudslide took place and the 7-day period of mourning declared in its wake has come to an end. One of my colleagues in country reports that 492 bodies have been buried, with hundreds still missing and thousands of people displaced. We have heard from staff at the Shepherds Hospice and from other friends and colleagues in country. All are safe but many have lost members of their extended family.

The main area affected was Regent, a settlement to the east of Freetown on a back road which links the former Hospice building with Freetown (thus I have often travelled through it). During the civil war the majority of the population were forced into Freetown and there are many densely populated settlements like this on the margins, especially congregating around rivers of course. Many dwellings are made of corrugated iron and mud bricks housing large families who would all have been sleeping. You may also have seen on the news some larger brick built homes. These are relatively recent, as things were starting to improve for the country prior to Ebola.

There has also been an extensive road renovation/tarmacking/widening scheme through Regent and surrounds. The former road mentioned was a ‘mud’ track prior to my last visit in 2016. Some are linking this excavation to the disaster but CNN reports a 300-fold increase in rainfall since the start of the rainy season. Whatever the cause the impact is massive and likely to worsen as the country has once again been gripped by grief. Just as the shoots of recovery from war were apparent the horror of Ebola quickly strangled them.

In the words of the President, “Hundreds of our unsuspecting compatriots were swept away from their sleep onto untimely deaths. They all had their plans for the next day; they had their hopes and aspirations for a bright future like the six innocent children who went to study in the home of one of their brightest colleagues; like the young man who was due to get married tomorrow.”

In the words of a colleague, Sandra Lako, “A mum came to the clinic with her 6 week old. With great sorrow she told us that her husband and mother died in the flooding. She is now a widow and her child will never know his father. On Saturday I met a lady whose family slept in their new home in Regent for the first time on the eve of the disaster. Early Monday morning the lady, her husband and their one-year-old went to their former house to get the last belongings. By the time they returned to Regent the landslide had taken place. Their 12 and 4-year-old children died in the mudslide. They never saw them again. There is so much grief. Yet the resilience of the Sierra Leoneans is remarkable. Time after time they demonstrate that even in a crisis, they press on. They stand together. They smile. They are courageous. They are kind.”

A more positive legacy of Ebola has been a greatly heightened awareness and acceptance of the way in which disease is spread. It is only half way through the rainy season and the threat of cholera, typhoid, and dysentery from contaminated water will be growing …wells are scarce and taps even more so! Please pray for those bereaved. For the Staff at Connaught hospital and mortuary and all those involved in the response including the United Methodist church which is very active. For the small number of survivors who are being cared for at the Connaught and for the safety of the hundreds currently in shelters who have suffered huge losses of family and friends as well as property.