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One year after deadly Sierra Leone mudslides, survivors say they can barely afford to eat

One year after Sierra Leone suffered a devastating mudslide that wiped out entire communities in its capital...

Posted: Aug. 17, 2018 12:27 PM
Updated: Aug. 17, 2018 12:27 PM

One year after Sierra Leone suffered a devastating mudslide that wiped out entire communities in its capital, survivors say they are are struggling to afford meals and decent accommodation.

Survivors who lost their livelihoods say they have no source of income to rebuild their lives.

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Africa

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Floods and flooding

Landslides

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Sierra Leone

Western Africa

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In the aftermath of the disaster, the government provided temporary accommodation for survivors. They also gave cash to others who opted to find alternative housing for their families.

Pawa Koroma, 58, said he was given the equivalent of $300 by the government to rent a home for his family of nine.

But despite that intervention, challenges remain. His rent is coming due, and he fears his family could be out on the streets again.

"We are stranded again, and I have no source of income to renew this rent. We can barely afford a meal a day," he said.

On Wednesday night, families and survivors dressed in symbolic black-and-white clothing returned to the areas where thousands of homes were washed away

Hundreds of people gathered to pray during a candlelight memorial held for those who died in one of the worst natural disasters to hit the West African nation.

Emotions ran high as a children's choir sang at the service organized by the Movement for Restoration for Mudslide Victims Organization.

Families wept as victims' names were read out during the memorial.

More than 1,000 people were declared dead or missing following the disaster on August 14 last year.

The mudslide happened after torrents of mud water triggered by heavy rains and flooding brought the side of Mount Sugar Loaf crashing into shanty towns below the hillside.

Koroma says the horrors of that fateful day still haunt him.

He barely managed to get his wife and eight children to safety before the flood water buried his home.

The carpenter said he was preparing for prayers in the early hours of that day when he saw torrents of muddy water charging toward his home in Lumley, one of the areas most affected by the disaster.

"I have never seen that much water, people were screaming while it carried them. I was shouting to wake people up; unfortunately, many were sleeping," he said.

He lost his younger sister, Fatu, who lived in the same community.

Koroma believes she was swept away in the landslides that tore through thousands of homes.

"I tried to get to her house, but everybody was running to get away from the water. I searched mortuaries after the incident. I did not find her. I went back to her house, it was no longer there," Koroma said.

Aminata Bissa was asleep as deadly floods headed toward her house on the base of the hill.

"Water is coming, water is coming, get out," she heard and quickly dragged her two children out of bed.

Regent, a Freetown neighborhood, has witnessed many devastating mudslides caused by years of deforestation and flooding.

Bissa, 29, said her home and shop, where she sold groceries to the community, were buried in the landslides.

She has since resettled with her family in Kamayama, a community close to areas affected in last year's landslides.

Like Koroma, she may soon become homeless.

"My rent expires next month, where do I go with two children? Everyone I know has lost either their home and businesses in the mudslide," Bissa said.

The government is addressing housing challenges facing those displaced by the floods, but requests have been overwhelming, a lawmaker told CNN.

"The level of destruction by the mudslides is shocking, and we are still working every day to get people back on their feet," Ibrahim Conteh said.

But none of these challenges compares to the loss suffered by those who lost family members.

"Till now, I have not seen my elder sister and her two children. I have checked mortuaries, and I have not set my eyes on her body," Bissa said.

Sierra Leone has endured many tragedies, but the August mudslides brought a new low to the country still reeling from an Ebola crisis that claimed 4,000 lives in 2014.

Around 20,000 people were displaced, including 5,000 children, according to government officials.

The desolation suffered by those affected drew humanitarian responses from around the world. International agencies and NGOs opened shelters across the country to house thousands of affected families.

Sierra Leone is prone to natural disasters, especially recurring floods and landslides, provoked by climate change.

The country ranks among 15 countries most vulnerable to disaster globally.

Experts say while heavy rainfall triggered the mudslide, decades of unchecked development in the outskirts of the mountainous area of Freetown laid the ground for the disaster.

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