Sierra Leone’s president Julius Maada Bio on Tuesday joined dozens of survivors of a mudslide that hit the capital of Freetown last year to remember the dead.
Around 500 people, many dressed in black and white, gathered in a church in the Regent district where heavy rains caused the partial collapse of a mountain, now a red rock scar looming over the West African capital.
“We are here to acknowledge the pain, the trauma of the mudslide tragedy,” said President Bio, who took office in April.
He told the crowd, including many who had lost limbs as well as loved ones to the disaster, that a memorial would be built in the disaster zone.
That day in August 2017, heavy rains lashed the slopes left bare by chronic deforestation in Freetown, and huge boulders suddenly detached, rolling onto informal settlements, crushing shacks and enveloping entire households in red mud.
A year on, many residents are still dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy.
Olivia Cole, who lost her husband and two children in the mudslide, said she was “still in shock when it rains at night, as if memories of the disaster are haunting me.”
“I’m still living in the disaster zone because the package NGOs and the government gave us was not enough to start a new life somewhere else,” she told AFP at the ceremony.
With the rainy season now in full swing in Sierra Leone, there are fears another landslide could strike Regent, where many residents still live in flood-prone areas.
Bio said better environmental protections were needed – adding he had banned charcoal burning, stone mining and deforestation at Sugarloaf mountain, where the floods turned deadly, “to prevent another disaster from happening.”
In the last 15 years, four major floods have affected more than 220 000 people in Sierra Leone and caused severe economic damage, according to a World Bank report issued in 2017.
Last summer’s was the deadliest yet: 1 141 people were declared dead or unaccounted for, according to official figures.