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New Mudslide Threat Looms Ahead of Mass Burial in Sierra Leone

Freetown (August 18, 2017): New mudslide threat looms ahead of mass burial in Sierra Leone, an official has said, only days after a devastating mudslide on the outskirts of the capital claimed more than 330 lives.

Authorities have already been evacuating people around the site of Monday’s landslide at Mount Sugar Loaf, about five miles outside the capital, Freetown, after examining drone images.

Now aerial images of an adjacent hill have revealed a crack that is likely to collapse and that covers a much larger area, Tourism and Cultural Affairs Minister Sidie Yahya Tunis told journalists.

“After looking at drone images, we have realized that we have a bigger portion of about 29.1 hectares (71 acres) that is likely to collapse,” Tunis said. “We don’t know how much coverage that will have (on the ground)… This is even more worrisome for us.”

About 1.9 hectares (4.7 acres) of the hillside collapsed in Monday’s landslide, which covered homes in an area spanning 3.6 hectares (8.9 acres), the minister said.

More rain is expected to fall in the country over the next few days, which increases the threat of a new landslide, the minister said.

“We are really very worried; the weather conditions are still not favorable. The prediction is that we are expecting more rain in the next couple of days… We want to be able to evacuate as much people as we can before we find ourselves in this situation again.” The country is already overwhelmed as it tries to respond to the fallout from Monday’s landslide, Tunis said.

“We are now busy evacuating people. We have mounted tents and shelters. … It is a race against time and the resources that are available,” he said. “At this point, more hands are needed on deck, both locally and internationally. The gravity is huge and the magnitude is just so much for this nation to handle. I pray that other countries will come in to assist.”

Mourners were gathering to pay respects at a mass burial Thursday afternoon as the search continues for other victims.

The mass burial, initially planned for Wednesday, was postponed for a day to allow families to identify their loved ones. The country’s President, Ernest Bai Koroma, and other dignitaries including Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf were expected to attend the ceremony.

The death toll has climbed to 331, Tunis said, with rescue workers recovering the bodies of 122 children, 111 men and 98 women from the wreckage so far.

Around 600 people are still unaccounted for after heavy rains struck the Regent district in the early hours of Monday, according to government officials and aid agencies.

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