Hundreds of people are feared dead after a mudslide on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, officials and witnesses say.
Victor Foh, vice president of the West African country, has said many people are still buried underneath the debris.
“It is likely that hundreds are lying dead underneath the rubble,” Foh told Reuters news agency at the scene of Monday’s mudslide in the mountain town of Regent.
He said a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area hit by the mudslide.
“The disaster is so serious that I myself feel broken,” he said. “We’re trying to evacuate the people.”
Rescue workers were trying to reach those trapped, after buildings were submerged in two areas of the city.
Ishmeal Alfred Charles of the Healey International Relief Foundation, Freetown, described the situation as “disastrous”, saying that many houses had been “wiped away” by the rushing mudslide.
Bodies were spread out on the floor of a morgue, Sinneh Kamara, a coroner technician at the Connaught Hospital mortuary, told the national broadcaster, the Sierra Leone National Broadcasting Corp.
“The capacity at the mortuary is too small for the corpses,” he said.
Kamara urged the health department to deploy more ambulances, saying his mortuary has only four.
Sierra Leone’s national television broadcaster interrupted its regular programming to show scenes of people trying to retrieve their loved ones’ bodies.
Others were seen carting relatives’ remains in rice sacks to the morgue.
Military personnel have been deployed to help in the rescue operation, officials said.
Many of the impoverished areas of Freetown are close to sea-level and have poor drainage systems, exacerbating flooding during the rainy season.