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Sierra Leone Latest: Landslides Death Toll Nears 500


And now, we turn to Africa, where mudslides have devastated two countries. Flash floods in Freetown, Sierra Leone, triggered the side of Mount Sugarloaf to collapse last Monday, burying hundreds of people in homes. And separately, the Democratic Republic of Congo was also hit by a deadly mudslide on Wednesday. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been monitoring developments all week, and she joins us now. Hello, Ofeibea.


BROWN: Ofeibea, what can you tell us about how Sierra Leone is dealing with the devastation?

QUIST-ARCTON: Sierra Leone is still in total shock. The country started to bury those who perished in the mudslide. We're talking about 461. The U.N. and the Red Cross say those are the bodies that they have managed to find. Now, many of these bodies have totally, totally overwhelmed the morgue and the main mortuary in the city. We're told that bodies were piled up literally on the floor because there was not enough fridge space to fit them in. Now, we're talking about a Sierra Leone that is coming out of - you know, in the past 20 years - out of a civil war, Ebola three years ago and, now, hit by this new disaster.

BROWN: Do we know what caused the mountain to come down, sweeping away everything?

QUIST-ARCTON: We are told that amongst the reasons is unregulated building. And not just poor, shanty dwellings, but also wealthy people building on the mountainside. Freetown is a city ringed by mountains, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. And the deforestation has been absolutely monumental. So there was nothing to stop the mud sliding, rushing down the mountainside, triggered by torrential rains.

BROWN: What are the authorities saying about this?

QUIST-ARCTON: That they need help. They've been getting help from neighboring countries. I'm in Ghana, for instance. Ghana has offered help. We're told that there is now enough excavation equipment. But the problem is they probably need technicians and maybe sniffer dogs, that there may be up to 600 more people buried under the mud. But they haven't got to them yet. So Sierra Leone's government is saying, please, we need help.

BROWN: Ofeibea, lives have also been lost in Democratic Republic of Congo. What more can you tell us about that?

QUIST-ARCTON: Yep, 200-plus lives there in a mudslide in Ituri in the northeast. And, you know, it's similar problems to Sierra Leone. We're told that many people die each year in Congo as a result of poorly regulated construction and development. You know, people build homes this time near mines and bodies of water, and that makes them vulnerable to disasters. And also, Dwane, eastern Congo has this added risk of being on a seismic fault line, so it's prone to earthquakes, which means it frequently suffers from quakes and, sometimes, even volcano eruptions.

BROWN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking from Accra, Ghana. Thank you so much for joining us.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.