By CLARENCE ROY-MACAULAY
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — More than 400 bodies have been pulled from the debris of Sierra Leone’s mudslides as burials and recovery efforts pressed on Friday amid the threat of further disaster. The Red Cross said they still hope to find survivors “but the chances are getting smaller every day.”
The U.N. humanitarian agency put the death toll at 409 after the flooding and mudslides in the West African nation’s capital, Freetown, on Monday morning.
“The death toll is climbing by the day,” Elhadj As Sy, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told reporters in Geneva, adding that the disaster is “way beyond the capacity of the government alone.”
Large-scale burials have begun as an estimated 600 people remain missing. People continue to search through tons of mud and debris amid the remains of mangled buildings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.