Residents save belongings in floodwaters after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017. .
(photo credit: ERNEST HENRY / REUTERS)
Israel on Tuesday began extending assistance to disaster-hit Sierra Leone, announcing that in the first stage it will buy food for the survivors of the mudslides and torrential floods there, and in the next stage transfer medical supplies.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry to extend immediate humanitarian aid to the country, and Israel’s ambassador to Senegal Paul Hirschson, who is also the nonresident ambassador to Sierra Leone, was in contact throughout the day with senior Sierra Leonean officials to assess the country’s needs.
The Foreign Ministry, along with IsraAID – an Israel-based humanitarian aid agency that responds to emergency crisis around the world and has a team on the ground in Sierra Leone – purchased food for some 10,000 meals that were to be distributed on Tuesday night in coordination with the local authorities.
Nearly 300 people are confirmed dead, untold numbers of more are feared buried alive in their homes by the mudslides, and an estimated 3,000 people have been left homeless, and are in need of shelter, medical assistance and food.
The Sierra Red Cross Society said 600 were missing.
Rescue workers have recovered 270 bodies so far from a mudslide in the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, the mayor said on Tuesday, as rescue operations continued and morgues struggled to find space for all the dead.
President Ernest Bai Koroma urged residents of Regent and other flooded areas around Freetown to evacuate immediately so that military personnel and other rescue workers could continue to search for survivors that might be buried underneath debris.
Dozens of houses were covered in mud when a mountainside collapsed in the town of Regent on Monday morning, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Africa in recent years.
We have a total of 270 corpses which we are now preparing for burial,” Freetown Mayor Sam Gibson told reporters outside city hall.
Bodies have continued to arrive at the city’s central morgue. Corpses are lying on the floor and on the ground outside because the morgue is overloaded, a witness said.
“Our problem here is space. We are trying to separate, quantify, and examine quickly and then we will issue death certificates before the burial,” said Owiz Koroma, head of the morgue.
He did not have an updated death toll but said: “It’s in the hundreds, hundreds!” “We are also fearful of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid,” Sierra Leone Red Cross Society spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said. “We can only hope that this does not happen.”
Contaminated water and water-logging often lead to deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhea after floods and mudslides.
Crowds of people gathered, waiting for news of missing family members.
“I’ve been looking for my aunt and her two children, but so far no word about them,” said Mohamed Jalloh, crying. He said he feared the worst.
Koroma said in a television address on Monday evening that rescue centers had been set up around the capital to register and assist victims.
Bulldozers dug through mud and rubble at the foot of Mount Sugar Loaf, where many residents had been asleep when part of the mountainside collapsed. The government said a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area.
Israel has rendered assistance to the Muslim- majority country of some 7 million people in the past, sending a field hospital and staff to Sierra Leone in 2014 to help fight the Ebola epidemic, which claimed some 4,000 lives in the country.
At the time Israel also contributed $10 million to the Ebola aid fund, the sixth-largest contribution in the world.
Koroma visited Israel in January, the first-ever visit here by the leader of that country, and said he hoped to “rekindle” his country’s long-standing “fraternal relationship” with Israel.
He said at the time that both before and immediately after his country’s independence in 1961, Israel provided support that resulted in the construction of numerous public buildings in the capital.
Sierra Leone joined the bulk of other African countries in breaking off formal diplomatic ties with Israel following the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
“Clearly, Sierra Leone-Israel relations predate independence of both countries, and like many long-standing relationships we have experienced some turbulence,” Koroma said when he visited in January. “But history has taught us that while we may remember, we would do well not to dwell on the dull moments, especially when the lights of the bright moments continue to sparkle.”
He said at the time that Sierra Leone was interested in enhancing cooperation with Israel in a variety of fields, including agriculture, water management, information technology, defense and security.