More than 300 bodies recovered from Sierra Leone mudslide

Rescue workers recover hundreds of bodies after a mudslide on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown as the search continues for more.

Rapid burials planned as search continues for victims

Hundreds of people have been killed in a mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown following days of heavy rain. The Red Cross reports hundreds more are missing 0:40

Rescue workers have recovered hundreds of bodies after a mudslide on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown and the search continues for more, authorities said on Tuesday.

Dozens of houses were covered in mud when a mountainside collapsed in the town of Regent on Monday morning in one of the deadliest natural disasters in Africa in recent years. Many were trapped under tons of mud as they slept.

The Red Cross estimated 600 people were still missing.

The Connaught Hospital mortuary in central Freetown was overwhelmed on Tuesday, with more than 300 bodies spread on the floor.

The damage from a mudslide is inspected in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone, on Monday. (Ernest Henry/Reuters)

"The magnitude of the destruction as a result of the disaster is such that the number of victims in the community who may not come out alive may likely exceed the number of dead bodies already recovered," said Charles Mambu, a civil society activist and resident of one affected area, Mount Sugar Loaf.

In a sign of hope, he said, two people were "brought out alive from the debris last evening."

Government spokesperson Cornelius Deveaux said rescue operations began early Tuesday to remove people still believed to be buried in the rubble. Heavy equipment was deployed to dig into the piles of red mud.

Deveaux said definitive death figures were unknown "as the mortuary is overwhelmed with corpses — men, women and children."

Many bodies were in a horrible state, missing arms, heads or legs, Deveaux said, adding that proper burials will be vital in keeping disease at bay.

"Contingency plans are being put in place to mitigate the outbreak of disease like cholera," he told local radio station FM 98.1.

Sulaiman Parker, the environmental protection officer in the Freetown City Council, said bodies will be buried in the next 48 hours.

Rescue workers carry a body from the site of a mudslide in Regent, east of Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Monday. (Manika Kamara/Associated Press)

Thousands homeless

President Ernest Bai Koroma urged residents of Regent and other flooded areas around Freetown to leave immediately so that military personnel and other rescue workers could continue to search for survivors that might be buried underneath debris.

Rescue centres have been set up around the capital to register and assist victims, he said in a television address on Monday evening. 

Red Cross estimates have said as many as 3,000 people are left homeless and the figure is expected to rise. Communications and electricity also have been affected.

Many of the impoverished areas of Sierra Leone's capital are close to sea level and have poor drainage systems, exacerbating flooding during the rainy season. Freetown also is plagued by unregulated building of large residential houses in hilltop areas.

Deforestation for firewood and charcoal is one of the leading factors of worsening flooding and mudslides. Freetown's drainage channels also are often clogged because of garbage dumping due to insufficient sanitation services in many areas.

With files from The Associated Press