Torrential rains unleashed widespread mudslides around the capital city of Sierra Leone early on Monday as residents slept, burying many of them in their homes.
The French news agency AFP cited a Red Cross official as saying the death toll had risen to 312 on Monday, and a morgue official in Freetown said earlier that more than 200 bodies had been brought to his facility alone.
Sinneh Kamara, a coroner technician at the Connaught Hospital mortuary, told the national broadcaster early Monday that the number of corpses brought in had overwhelmed the facility.
He told the Sierra Leone National Broadcasting Corp. that bodies were on the floor of the morgue. Kamara also called on the health department to deploy more ambulances, saying his mortuary only has four.
Dramatic video published online by the Society 4 Climate Change Communication – Sierra Leone showed bodies laying in mud and rushing floodwater and television broadcasts showed family members digging through mud in a desperate bid to free their loved ones.
Many of the impoverished areas of Sierra Leone’s capital are close to sea level and have poor drainage systems, exacerbating flooding during this West African country’s rainy season.
The head of the Red Cross in Sierra Leone, Constant Kargbo, told CBS News correspondent Debora that his organization still could not give a definitive death toll, but he said it was likely to be extremely high.
In areas where they have to excavate bodies from beneath the mud and rubble, they don’t always have the necessary equipment, and Kargbo said frantic relatives arriving on the scene were making the grim task even more difficult. Rescue workers were working in “a very traumatic situation” amid the crowds, despite police attempts at crowd control.
The main area hit by the landslides is the Regent area of the capital. In other parts of the country, driving rains were causing major flooding, especially where people have built homes along river banks.
The disaster struck in the middle of the night and caught many people unaware, says Patta.
Officials said military personnel had been deployed to help in the rescue operations.
Deputy Information Minister Cornelius Deveaux said officials were still trying to compile complete casualty figures.