Sierra Leone to have week-long mourning for mudslide victims, countries pledge support

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-16 16:51:42|Editor: Yamei
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Photo taken on Aug. 14, 2017 shows the flooding site in Freetown, Sierra Leone. More than 300 people were killed in a mudslide and flooding on Monday in the area of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, the national broadcaster said. (Xinhua/Liu Yu)

FREETOWN, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Starting on Wednesday, Sierra Leone will have a week-long national mourning for hundreds of people killed in a mudslide earlier this week as countries in Africa and elsewhere offer assistance to the poverty-stricken West African country to cope with the disaster.

The massive mudslide, which occurred Monday morning following heavy rains, swept across a large area on the outskirts of Freetown, killing at least 297 people, over a third of them children, according to the latest update of casualties by the country's Emergency Response Center.

Some 200 people are still missing from the mudslide, the agency said.

Information from the Red Cross showed that at least 3,000 people became homeless as a result of the disaster and the number could rise further.

Sierra Leones President Ernest Bai Koroma announced the decision to hold a seven-day national mourning for the mudslide victims on Tuesday. According to a statement from the Presidential Office, the national mourning will start on Aug. 16 and last until Aug. 22, and during the period all flags would be flown at half mast.

The general public is also requested to observe a minute of silence at midday on Wednesday, the statement said.

"The President has further decided to invoke MAC-C (Military Aid to Civil Community) and to raise the national security threat level to level 3 in direct response to the unfolding emergency situation," the statement said.

The government also requests bereaved families to continue to identify their fallen loved ones at the Connaught Hospital Mortuary between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Wednesday at the mortuary where they will be advised on the burial procedure, according to the statement.

It said that unidentified corpses will be given dignified burial at Waterloo between Aug. 17 and Aug. 18.

It added that the government will continue to provide the public with regular updates on the situation.

The total number of deaths reported at the Connaught Hospital is 297, including 109 children, 83 women and 105 men, Cornnelius Deveaux, the country's deputy minister of information and communication, told the press earlier Tuesday.

Some 100 rescuers, including around 30 foreigners as well as local officers and medical workers, were at the site conducting rescue work, backed by five excavators, Wang Bo, a staff member of China Railway Seventh Group who also took part in the rescue effort, told Xinhua Tuesday.

A Chinese medical team based in the country also participated in the rescue effort.

In the wake of the disaster, one of the deadliest Africa has seen in recent years, many countries have sent their condolences and promises of assistance.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed condolence to Koroma in a phone call from London, saying the hearts of Nigerians are with the people of Sierra Leone in this tragic period, according to his spokesperson.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also sent his condolences.

"Kenya and Sierra Leone are allies, partners and friends, so our thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives were lost, and with all those who were injured," Kenyatta said in a statement.

Kenyatta said the spirit of African solidarity remains strong and has assured Koroma that Kenya will provide any necessary assistance.

Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) has called for support from all Africans and international partners to Sierra Leone, helping its public health system respond to this disaster.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones. The entire AU family stands united with the people and government of Sierra Leone during this difficult time," said Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission

China, a long-time supporter of Africa, said it is ready to provide assistance to mudslide-hit areas of Sierra Leone.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a press conference on Tuesday that the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone has launched emergency procedures and is closely monitoring the situation.