Ottawa, Gatineau residents mobilize after deadly mudslides in Sierra Leone

Ottawa and Gatineau residents with connections to Sierra Leone are mobilizing to help those affected by devastating mudslides in the West African country.

More than 300 confirmed dead, some 600 missing, Red Cross says

Many people living at the foot of Mount Sugar Loaf were asleep when the mountainside collapsed, burying dozens of houses, witnesses said. (Saidu Bah/AFP/Getty Images)

Ottawa and Gatineau residents with connections to Sierra Leone are mobilizing to help those affected by devastating mudslides in the West African country.

More than 300 people in Sierra Leone are confirmed dead and Red Cross officials say 600 more remain missing after a storm hit Monday.

"The condition in the county is very precarious," said Ibrahim Kamara of Gatineau.

Originally from Freetown, Kamara has called Canada home for six years but remains in close contact with family and friends back home. He said he knows several people affected by the mudslides and has a cousin who's still missing.

Ibrahim Kamara worries more lives could be lost in Sierra Leone as the rainy season there continues. (Idil Mussa/CBC)
Many of the people who have lost their homes are now struggling to find food and fresh water to drink, said Kamara. "Pipes are also damaged so it's very difficult for them to have access to clean water." 

The Red Cross estimates as many as 3,000 people have been left homeless, a figure that's expected to rise.

Answering call for help

​Kamara has reached out to members of his community to help raise funds and collect supplies for those displaced. He's also connected with Sierra Leonean communities in Toronto and Montreal to coordinate efforts.

"In Freetown we only have one major hospital in the city," he said. "Help will be needed in the hospitals because that is where the emergency is."

Kamara worries about the potential for more mudslides. "The peak of the rainy season is in August. We don't know when the rain will stop."

Moses Batema says members of the Sierra Leone Community Association Ottawa are deciding how best to assist the West African country. (Idil Mussa/CBC)
Kamara is urging Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Canadian humanitarian organizations to help in any way they can.

"The [Sierra Leonean] government is trying but they don't have the capacity," he said.

Disaster follows Ebola crisis, civil war

Moses Batema, a member of the Sierra Leone Community Association Ottawa, said his organization is also deciding how best to help.

"When situations like this arise, like the last Ebola crisis for example, we do try to raise funds just to make sure we can contribute to some of the humanitarian and recovery efforts that are currently taking place," he said.

Sierra Leone's government has pleaded for international assistance as it tries to come to terms with yet another disaster. The recent Ebola outbreak left thousands dead, and an 11-year civil war ravaged the country in the 1990s and early 2000s. 

"Whatever international help we can get will be most welcome," said Batema. "From what we are seeing on social media and what we're hearing from family and friends, the government is doing a lot but it looks like they are overwhelmed at the moment."