Early last Monday morning Manga, 25, was preparing to head to work as a carpenter in the Regent area of Freetown, Sierra Leone, when he realized something was badly wrong
“The land was trembling and the whole area was trembling with me,” he tells CNN, his eyes still red-rimmed with emotion. “I came out to see what was happening. I saw water going down … When I moved up to three meters, I saw this whole mountain coming.”
A massive mudslide, sparked by heavy rains and flooding in an area that has suffered years of deforestation, was speeding down the slopes of Mount Sugar Loaf, towards his home in one of the makeshift shanty towns that dotted the hillside.
Manga survived, but an entire generation of his family was swept away in the devastation.
“I lost my mother Kumba, who I love so much,” he says. “I lost my brother John — I was in love with my brother. I lost his wife Jeneba, their baby Daniel, who is five months old. My elder brother also lost his two children.”
Manga now sleeps on a bench outside the single-story brown building his surviving family members call home. Pasted on the wall above the bench is a picture of his mother and the members of his family he has lost.
“I lost my family, I lost my people. I lost my place,” he says, a weary, resigned look on his face. “All has gone.”
Manga is far from alone. According to the latest death toll, 499 people, including more than 150 children, were killed
in the Regent mudslide.
Hundreds more remain missing, and relatives are losing hope that their loved ones will be found alive.
Mariama Koroma, 23, sits across the street from Manga’s home, outside the small building where she and some 50 other women and children are sheltering, clutching a photograph of her five-month-old niece Mariatu.
Mariatu and her mother, Koroma’s older sister Fanta, 35, have been missing since a tide of sodden red earth swept away their home. The family has been unable to find any sign of them where their house used to stand.
“When I go there, I didn’t see her house. We’ve driven everywhere and we can’t find her body,” she says. “The bodies are under there. My mother is now unconscious. I’m worried that she will not make it.”
Inside the dark, cramped shelter, Wuiatu Kondeh sits on a still-wrapped mattress. Clutching her two-year-old daughter, she weeps as she tells of how she escaped from the mudslide, only to realize she couldn’t find her husband, Lansana, 25, a motorbike taxi driver.
“We saw the hill coming down and we ran away,” she says, remembering fragments and details of that day. “Someone carried my child. I didn’t have my slippers.”
“Later, I looked for my husband and I didn’t see him,” she says, sobbing quietly, her face etched with pain. “I didn’t see my uncle … my sister, she lost two of her children. I didn’t see her again.”
Kondeh and her husband had only moved to the Mount Sugar Loaf area in June, after saving up to rent a home there. With that home destroyed, she and her baby daughter are left to sleep on the floor of this shared building.
Outside, the search continues, with rescue workers digging through the dirt for bodies, the stench of decomposing remains hanging in the air.