Mudslide Sierra Leone

When the Earth Collapsed

The haunting accounts of survivors of the 2017 mudslide in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. 

At 6am on the 14th August 2017, a hillside collapsed on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown. The collapse, caused by 3 days of torrential rain, triggered a mudslide, which engulfed residential houses, killing hundreds of people. 

A year has passed since the disaster, but questions remain of whether the government has done enough to stop the illegal building of houses on the unstable hillsides, and whether climate change will lead to more incidents like this. 

As memories of the mudslide fade, for the survivors affected, the grief, loss and struggle remain ever present in their daily lives.

Below is the story of 3 survivors:

Adama’s story

Perching on a wooden bench directly in front of the corrugated iron structure that her young family now calls home, Adama (25) explains that she’s had to build an extra wall to block the clear view of the Regent hillside, a constant reminder of the mudslide that tore her family apart. It is clear how painful it is for her to recall the destructive event that happened just over a year ago, but she wants her story to be heard.

“In the early hours of August 14th 2017, me and my husband were asleep in the house with our four young children and our elder relatives,” says Adama.

She continues: “The rain was particularly heavy that night, and in the early hours, the whole area suddenly darkened, I was unable to see anyone or anything around me.

“My home began to fill with water at an uncontrollable speed. We tried to get to higher ground. Me and three of my children were standing on slightly safer ground when my husband was lifting the fourth child to safety. As he passed our youngest girl to me, a neighbour shouted to warn of a heavy surge of water. The force knocked my husband off his feet and I saw him go with the water.”

Left alone in the chaos with her four young children, knowing she had lost everything she owned and her husband, she began to breakdown and cry. She knew she needed to get her children higher. 

As they exhaustively climbed, they came across an Aunt who had come to search for them; Adama and her children broke down, explaining they had lost their father. Her Aunt guided them as they attempted to find refuge.

Adama’s husband was the main breadwinner of the family, her young children are now unable to attend school, she is trying her best but the gardening work she does around the community will not be enough.

Her makeshift house is in a community which does not have any government schools, so all local education must be paid for, when asking Adama whether it was a possibility for the future, she says she has tried to negotiate and enroll her children but it will be unlikely.

Street Child has supplied Adama with the uniform and materials should she be able to find a solution. When asked what the future holds for her young family, Adama admits that for the foreseeable, she is completely reliant on charity.

Zinaba’s story

“I left for work in the early hours of the 14th August. I was at the market buying things to trade when I heard the news that the mudslide had hit my community. I dropped all my belongings and just ran home,” says Zinaba.

She explains: ”When I got there, I saw nothing and met no one. My home was gone. There was just a large stone marking the area. I lost all my relatives. I was alone.”

Zinaba’s friend accompanied her to a government camp, where Zinaba stayed and was given support and food from charitable organisations. The Red Cross gave her a small amount of money, which enabled her to mourn her lost relatives by setting up a small memorial.

When the camp stay came to an end, Zinaba’s friend kindly offered her to stay in her house. After the stay in the camp, Zinaba discovered she was pregnant but the father has denied any responsibility of the baby. The friend has had to step in again and provide support for Zinaba and her baby who is now just a few weeks old. 

“With Street Child’s support, I will set up a small business to raise funds for my baby. I thank god for Street Child and my friends kindess,” says Zinaba. She adds: “I pray that life will change as it’s very difficult. I wish my mother was still alive as I always turned to her.”

Fanta’s story

Last August Fanta’s youngest child was admitted to hospital, during their stay, Fanta received the devastating news that her community had been destroyed by the mudslide, engulfing the land in mud and water. Fanta grabbed her sick daughter, and without seeking approval from the doctors, she ran hoping to find her family.

“When I arrived, my home that I lived in with my father had vanished. No one had survived. My father and relatives were dead. I was 22 at the time, and I knew that I was now left alone to care for my two children,” explains Fanta.

The father of Fanta’s children had died years before, so now having lost her own father, Fanta had to find somewhere to go. 

“A man offered me and my children some accommodation. I was given no choice but to marry this man, otherwise my children would not have a roof over their heads,” says Fanta.

In an attempt to provide the very basics for her children, Fanta has been breaking stones by hand to make gravel and sell, she says the income is sporadic and she constantly hopes someone will come to buy it.

Fanta’s new house looks directly on to the face of the mudslide, a constant reminder of the devastation caused last August. Fanta said her son struggles with the loss of his Grandfather; he will sometimes go down to the site of their old house and cry.

Fanta adds: “Before the mudslide, my son was able to attend school. He has now missed out on a year of his education. Street Child has helped supply my family with school materials and now I hope I can send him next month.
“I pray to God that he will give my family strength. I pray to God that he will send a buyer for my stones.”