Rescue workers have recovered nearly 400 bodies from a mudslide in the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, the chief coroner says as rescue operations continue and morgues struggle to find space for all the dead.
President Ernest Bai Koroma on Tuesday urged residents of the town of Regent and other flooded areas around Freetown to evacuate immediately so that military personnel and other rescue workers could continue to search for survivors who might be buried underneath debris.
Dozens of houses were covered in mud when a mountainside collapsed in Regent on Monday morning, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Africa in recent years.
"As the search continues, we have collected nearly 400 bodies, but we anticipate more than 500," chief coroner Seneh Dumbuya told Reuters.
Bodies continued to arrive at the city's overwhelmed central morgue on Tuesday. Corpses were lying on the floor and on the ground outside for lack of room, a Reuters witness said.
"Our problem here is space. We are trying to separate, quantify, and examine quickly and then we will issue death certificates before the burial," said Owiz Koroma, head of the morgue, who also estimated the death toll to be in the hundreds.
To relieve pressure on the morgue, authorities and aid agencies were preparing to bury the bodies in four different cemeteries across Freetown on Wednesday, said Idalia Amaya, an emergency response co-ordinator for Catholic Relief Services.
Medecins Sans Frontieres is providing hundreds of body bags to authorities that the medical charity kept in Sierra Leone after the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak which killed 4000 people.
Sierra Red Cross Society spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said by phone he estimated that at least 3000 people were homeless and in need of shelter, medical assistance and food. The Red Cross said another 600 were missing.
"We are also fearful of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Freetown. "We can only hope that this does not happen."