Sierra Leone mourns the deaths of at least 400 victims including 105 children in one of the country's worst natural disasters.

A relative of a victim of the mudslide is comforted at the Freetown Morgue, Sierra Leone, on August 16, 2017.
A relative of a victim of the mudslide is comforted at the Freetown Morgue, Sierra Leone, on August 16, 2017. (AFP)

Sierra Leone began a week of mourning on Wednesday after 105 children were among at least 400 people who died in mudslides caused by torrential flooding.

With 600 people still missing in capital Freetown, President Ernest Bai Koroma described the humanitarian challenge ahead as "overwhelming."

He said flags would fly at half-mast and called for urgent help after visiting the devastated hilltop community of Regent on Tuesday.

Hundreds of people are still missing, United Nations teams are in Freetown, trying to asses the threat of further flooding. 

TRT World's Nafisa Latic reports.

Risk of disease outbreak

Hundreds of Freetown residents queued to identify relatives crushed by the mud on Monday in a valley on the outskirts of Freetown. Aid workers warned of an impending health crisis caused by about 400 corpses left out in the warm, fetid climate.

Freetown chief coroner Seneh Dumbuya said the burial of 297 of the bodies was underway. They were being transported to the Ebola cemetery at Waterloo, about 30 km outside of Freetown, Dumbuya said.

"We cannot wait for tomorrow for the burial, as was suggested by government, because most of the bodies are decomposing," he said. "The burial will continue up till night."

Dozens of houses were buried when a mountainside collapsed in the rainy season in the town of Regent.

The country of 6 million people is one of the poorest in the world and was ravaged by West Africa's 2014-16 Ebola outbreak, which killed 4,000 people in the former British colony.

Emergency response teams have raced to dig out survivors and dispose of bodies but the central morgue is overwhelmed and many bodies are feared trapped under mud and rubble.

Sobbing and covering their noses from the stench, relatives stepped around corpses lying on the ground outside the morgue as the sheets covering them were lifted.

"I came to identify my uncle in particular, but I couldn't find him," said 30-year-old Hawanatu Sesay, after her turn came to look through the morgue.

"Let his soul rest in peace," she said through tears.

Another man said he had identified his wife's body but had no news of his two young daughters. All had been buried when their house was engulfed in mud, he said.

Family of victims of heavy flooding and mudslides that killed 400 people in Regent wait to identify their bodies at Connaught hospital morgue in Sierra Leone, Freetown, Wednesday, August 16 , 2017.
Family of victims of heavy flooding and mudslides that killed 400 people in Regent wait to identify their bodies at Connaught hospital morgue in Sierra Leone, Freetown, Wednesday, August 16 , 2017. (AP)

Chief coroner Seneh Dumbuya said on Tuesday nearly 400 bodies had been brought in, and he anticipated more than 500 as the search continued. Authorities did not have an updated death toll on Wednesday.

The government summoned families to the morgue in a statement and said all unidentified corpses would be buried on Thursday and Friday.

Aid workers said there was a high risk of disease outbreaks such as cholera, as corpses are lying in the open in the heat.

Authorities have requested air conditioning units to keep the bodies cool and are in need of more protective gear such as masks, aprons and glove disposal stations, said Idalia Amaya, an emergency relief coordinator for Catholic Relief Services.

"The morgues are just overflowing with corpses and it is becoming a public health emergency," Amaya said. "They need to get the bodies out."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies