270 bodies recovered from Sierra Leone mudslide: mayor

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Rescue workers have recovered 270 bodies so far from a mudslide in the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, the mayor said on Tuesday, as rescue operations continued and morgues struggled to find space for all the dead.

President Ernest Bai Koroma urged residents 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 that might be buried underneath debris.

Dozens of houses were covered in mud when a mountainside collapsed in the town of Regent on Monday morning, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Africa in recent years.

"We have a total of 270 corpses which we are now preparing for burial," Freetown mayor Sam Gibson told reporters outside city hall.

RELATED: A look at the deadly mudslide

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Sierra Leone mudslide leaves hundreds dead
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Sierra Leone mudslide leaves hundreds dead
SIERRA LEONE, FREETOWN - AUGUST 14 : Residents walk through floodwaters in an area of Freetown, after landslides struck the capital of the west African state of Sierra Leone on August 14, 2017. At least 312 people were killed when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Bystanders and rescue personnel gather beside a flood damaged building in an area of Freetown on August 14, 2017, after landslides struck the capital of the west African state of Sierra Leone. At least 312 people were killed and more than 2,000 left homeless when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown, leaving morgues overflowing and residents desperately searching for loved ones. An AFP journalist at the scene saw bodies being carried away and houses submerged in two areas of the city, where roads turned into churning rivers of mud and corpses were washed up on the streets. / AFP PHOTO / SAIDU BAH (Photo credit should read SAIDU BAH/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A resident walks through floodwaters past a damaged building in an area of Freetown on August 14, 2017, after landslides struck the capital of the west African state of Sierra Leone. At least 312 people were killed and more than 2,000 left homeless when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown, leaving morgues overflowing and residents desperately searching for loved ones. An AFP journalist at the scene saw bodies being carried away and houses submerged in two areas of the city, where roads turned into churning rivers of mud and corpses were washed up on the streets. / AFP PHOTO / SAIDU BAH (Photo credit should read SAIDU BAH/AFP/Getty Images)
SIERRA LEONE, FREETOWN - AUGUST 14 : Residents walk through floodwaters in an area of Freetown, after landslides struck the capital of the west African state of Sierra Leone on August 14, 2017. At least 312 people were killed when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SIERRA LEONE, FREETOWN - AUGUST 14 : Residents walk through floodwaters in an area of Freetown, after landslides struck the capital of the west African state of Sierra Leone on August 14, 2017. At least 312 people were killed when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SIERRA LEONE, FREETOWN - AUGUST 14 : Residents walk through floodwaters in an area of Freetown, after landslides struck the capital of the west African state of Sierra Leone on August 14, 2017. At least 312 people were killed when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SIERRA LEONE, FREETOWN - AUGUST 14 : Residents walk through floodwaters in an area of Freetown, after landslides struck the capital of the west African state of Sierra Leone on August 14, 2017. At least 312 people were killed when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Bystanders look on as floodwaters rage past a damaged building in an area of Freetown on August 14, 2017, after landslides struck the capital of the west African state of Sierra Leone. At least 312 people were killed and more than 2,000 left homeless when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown, leaving morgues overflowing and residents desperately searching for loved ones. An AFP journalist at the scene saw bodies being carried away and houses submerged in two areas of the city, where roads turned into churning rivers of mud and corpses were washed up on the streets. / AFP PHOTO / SAIDU BAH (Photo credit should read SAIDU BAH/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents walk through floodwaters past a damaged building in an area of Freetown on August 14, 2017, after landslides struck the capital of the west African state of Sierra Leone. At least 312 people were killed and more than 2,000 left homeless when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown, leaving morgues overflowing and residents desperately searching for loved ones. An AFP journalist at the scene saw bodies being carried away and houses submerged in two areas of the city, where roads turned into churning rivers of mud and corpses were washed up on the streets. / AFP PHOTO / SAIDU BAH (Photo credit should read SAIDU BAH/AFP/Getty Images)
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Bodies have continued to arrive at the city's central morgue. Corpses are lying on the floor and on the ground outside because the morgue is overloaded, 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.

He did not have an updated death toll but said: "It's in the hundreds, hundreds!"

FEAR OF DISEASE

Sierra Red Cross Society spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said by phone he estimated that at least 3,000 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."

Contaminated water and water-logging often lead to potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhea after floods and mudslides.

Crowds of people gathered, waiting for news of missing family members.

"I've been looking for my aunt and her two children, but so far no word about them," said Mohamed Jalloh, crying. He said he feared the worst.

President Koroma said in a television address on Monday evening that rescue centers had been set up around the capital to register and assist victims.

Bulldozers dug through mud and rubble at the foot of Mount Sugar Loaf, where many residents had been asleep when part of the mountainside collapsed. The government said a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area.

(Writing by Nellie Peyton; additional reporting by Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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