Rugby Methodist Church Centre

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Emergency Sierra Leone update

Report from Freetown, Sierra Leone.                        The Night of the Disaster:

            The night of the 13/14th. August had been as savage as any night I’d seen. Driving rain and gale-force winds from the west, although nothing out of the ordinary in the Salone rainy season. I waited for delegates to arrive, albeit late for the teacher workshop on the Monday morning (14th), but as we waited the news ‘trickled’ in that several bodies had been washed down a nearby river in Lumley. I called several staff to see if they were safe. One by one they excused themselves from the workshop with increasingly worrying reports that further more badly disfigured bodies were now being seen locally in their neighbourhoods.

          By lunchtime it was time to pack up and go home, worried as hell by the news. NPA was gladly working as we tuned in to the SL and world news. Throughout the afternoon we learned the full scale of the unfolding disaster. Not several but by now several hundred bodies had been washed down the mountainside and now filled the mortuary at Connaught Hospital. Soon they had to turn away new corpses. We learned that the main west flank of the Sugar Loaf peak had collapsed, sending a two kilometre mud-slide gushing down the mountainside upwards of 10 mph and taking with it every panbody and mansion built on this precarious slope, everyone of them illegally. It happened at 4am and so took with it almost every sleeping relative, although not until lunchtime did the emergency services arrive on the scene. A deeply depressive mood has settled on the whole country as they listen to their own news with disbelief, their normally ebullient nature utterly shattered. 

          Maybe a National Day of Mourning will be announced for this weekend but until then we have a mass burial of all the body parts and then the rest of the bodies today and tomorrow. Two days on, the death toll has risen to over 400 although as many again may still lie beneath the mud and rubble of the slide, many perhaps only to be exhumed naturally as storms scour the hillside during the next few years. It hasn’t taken long for the finger of suspicion to point to inert politicians unable to control gangs of violent land-grabbers, paid by rich speculators. What suffering this country has had to bear over recent years from the end of the civil war in 2002 (20,000 deaths), and the lowest HDI rating by the UN up to 2010. The Ebola crisis (2014/15) which claimed over 4,000 lives and now this latest tragedy set to claim perhaps another 500 lives or more. I abandoned my teacher workshop for good today with the feeling of how trivial such work amounts to at this moment in time, but keen to show some degree of solidarity with all those affected and even for those who have died. Mike                                                                                      7pm. Wednesday, 16th.August. 2017