AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Sierra Leone's president has declared seven days of mourning after a massive mudslide on Monday killed hundreds of people. The Red Cross says 3,000 people are homeless. Rescue workers in Freetown have so far recovered 400 bodies. But that number is expected to rise. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Witnesses say they'd never seen anything like it and describe a deafening whoosh as part of Mount Sugar Loaf collapsed, sending a river of mud rushing down the hillside and sweeping hundreds of people to their deaths in the landslide in Freetown early Monday. Amid a seasonal deluge, panicked survivors and family members dug with their hands, desperately trying to pull out any survivors buried in the mud. There have been few. Instead, the main morgue in Sierra Leone's capital is overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and is fast running out of space.
Piles of the hundreds of corpses recovered by rescue workers are everywhere, some without limbs, lying on the bare floors because the fridges are full. Sierra Leone's president, Ernest Bai Koroma, is appealing for an international response and urgent assistance to help his impoverished country, already hobbled by lamentable infrastructure and a recent Ebola outbreak. President Koroma has appealed for calm and for his compatriots to stand together.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT ERNEST BAI KOROMA: Fellow Sierra Leoneans, this tragedy of great magnitude has once again challenged us to help one another.
QUIST-ARCTON: There are complaints the rescue and recovery operation have been chaotic. As heavy rains continue in Freetown, relief workers warn of the risk of the spread of diseases and are urging the prompt and safe burial of those who've perished. Officials say body parts were buried last evening and that Sierra Leone is now preparing for the mass burial of corpses. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Accra.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCTOR FLAKE'S "CROSSOVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.