At least 179 bodies have been brought to the central morgue in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, after a mudslide in the outskirts of the city on Monday morning, the Red Cross said.
The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are recovered, Red Cross spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said by telephone.
A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sierra Leone said authorities have recovered the bodies of 205 people. The number is expected to rise, Abu Bakarr said.
More than 1,000 others have been affected, with “both figures to climb as search and rescue continues,” according to the Red Cross.
The majority of rainfall in the country comes between June and October. This year has been particularly wet. Freetown has received more than 41 inches of rain since July 1 — that’s about triple the average of 13.8 inches, according to the US National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.
The United Nations office in Sierra Leone said on its Twitter account that it was assessing the damage and preparing a response.
Abdulai Bayraytay, spokesman for President Ernest Bai Koroma, told CNN the immediate priority was to help the victims.
“At the moment, we are concentrating on search and rescue and providing medical and therapeutic support to the community affected,” he said.
Bayraytay said the place most affected was Mortema, which is a few miles outside of the capital in the Regent district.
The police, military and the Office of National Security were all involved in the rescue mission.
“We have alerted all hospitals so that those rescued can be provided with immediate support on site or be ferried to hospitals,” Bayraytay said.
Social workers have also been sent to comfort the survivors.
“The whole country is traumatized by the magnitude of the disaster,” he added.
Bayraytay said President Koroma had already visited the scene “to provide words of comfort to the victims”.
An emergency Cabinet meeting was due to be held later in the day.
Vice President Victor Foh told Reuters that hundreds of people could be lying dead underneath the rubble.
“The disaster is so serious that I myself feel broken,” he was reported as saying. “We’re trying to cordon (off) the area (and) evacuate the people.”