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Sierra Leone: “Families buried as they slept”

Interview with Ramatu Jalloh, a Save the Children director in Sierra Leone.

Where were you when the mudslide happened?

I was driving on the main road out of Freetown, when a lady ran onto the road and started gesticulating wildly. She called out to a lady in front of us who had been riding a bike. After a brief conversation, she started crying and looked very upset — it was clear from their reactions that something terrible had happened.

Soon afterwards, another man ran towards our car. He was crying about the number of lives that had been lost.

As we continued down the road we could see there was a serious issue. Tonnes of water was rushing across the road, splitting it in half. We contacted the Save the Children office immediately to tell them that something was seriously wrong.

What is it like in Freetown at the moment?

People are very distressed, and I think this crisis has touched everyone in the country. Particularly as we’re just emerging from the Ebola period, which was such a long road to recovery.

We also experienced devastating floods in September 2015, so it’s hard to believe that tragedy has struck yet again.

Sierra Leoneans have shown remarkable resilience given everything they’ve been through over the last few years, but this is a very challenging situation.

What is the situation now?

Hundreds of people, including dozens of children, have been killed. It’s feared that there are countless more still under the mud.

Entire families were buried while they slept, and thousands have lost their homes along with everything they own.

Public health is a major concern and the morgues are full. Some patients who urgently need medical care are discharging themselves from hospital because of the smell.

The decomposition of the bodies over the next couple of days could result in a public health emergency unless urgent measures are taken.

How are you helping families?

Our focus is on helping families who survived this disaster get back on their feet, come to terms with their experiences, and start to re-build their lives.

We’re working with the Government to get a clear picture of the disaster, and will start responding as soon as possible.

We’re planning to give out essential items to families who have lost everything. We’ll also make sure that children have everything they need when school starts in September, and that schools are safe for their return.

We plan to look after children who have been separated from their families or have lost their homes. We will set up child-friendly spaces, where children have a place where they can feel safe and comfortable.

Water-borne diseases are also a major concern, which is why we’ll work hard to provide sanitation ensure that families can access safe water and are protected from deadly diseases like cholera.

How can the public help families in Sierra Leone?

We’ve already sent £200,000 directly from our Emergency Fund. This is a life-saving resource which means that we can immediately support children and their families.

But with the death toll expected to rise and further rains forecast, we urgently need to reach children who have been affected, and protect families from future emergencies.

We can only do this with your help.

Please donate to our Emergency Fund and help families get back on their feet following disaster.

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