By Saidu BAH
Freetown (AFP) Aug 22, 2017
Ann-Marie Caulker scrolls through the images on her smartphone: the faces of young girls who were her some of her brightest students at school in Freetown until the landslide hit.
"This girl has died," she says through the tears. "This one also has died. She was very clever."
The death toll from last week's mudslide and flooding in Sierra Leone's capital city is approaching 500. Hundreds more are missing after one of the country's worst disasters.
Caulker, 48, founded the Royal Kings International school a decade ago to provide education to some of Freetown's most disadvantaged children.
Today, she says she lost as many as 50 pupils and at least two teachers in the tragedy.
"Our school was destroyed completely. Pupils, teachers and parents also died during the disaster," she tells AFP.
Dressed in a purple hat and sneakers, Caulker picks her way through the capital's Pentagon district, the red earth strewn with rocks and other debris scattered when the ground gave way.
Houses -- simple, corrugated structures -- used to cling to the hillside above dotted with mango and palm trees.
It was from there, after three days of rain, that the torrent came on the night of August 13-14, sweeping away everything in its path, slamming into ramshackle homes and trapping families while they slept.
"All these rocks were not here," she says, gesturing at the detritus.
"All the places that you're seeing, there were houses of two-storey buildings. Many people are dead."
The school was mainly divided between two buildings. One, at the foot of the valley, was washed away in the landslide. Another, higher up the hill, has since been hit by looters.
"We used to have chairs and benches," Caulker says. "They have taken all during this crisis."
Teacher Felix Mansary says the fate of many of his pupils and colleagues remains unknown.
"We are still trying to get information about other teachers, pupils and parents of the school," he says.
"This (tragedy) discourages us, because we groom these people for the future and then unfortunately, they die."
- 'Sorrow and pain' -
The Sunday before last, hundreds of Pentagon residents crowded into the community church to celebrate mass.
A week later, after the devastation, barely 30 people made it to service.
After hymns sung to the beat of two drums, pastor Charles King addressed the congregation.
"This is a time of sorrow and pain as the church lost many members," he said.
He called on surviving church-goers to be kind to each other, an attempt at offering some sort of relief in this deeply pious nation.
But for Caulker, who is raising funds to rebuild her school even as bodies continue to be pulled from the mud, the pain will last a lifetime.
"Some of the women, right now they are homeless, people are sleeping in the rain," she says.
"I'm still scared and don't sleep at night when it starts raining."
Sierra Leone warns against swimming in Freetown waters
"I would advise not to go and start to swim until we feel it is safe and reasonable enough," Yassin Kargbo, the director general of the city's tourism office, told reporters in Freetown.
He said the city put out the advisory "because of the different debris that came into the water and the likelihood that you (could) get yourself hurt or contaminated by the water".
Kargbo said authorities had discovered 60 bodies on the shore and one survivor, a week after the city was struck by flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 500 people.
At least 600 others are also still listed as missing, according to the Red Cross.
Guinean authorities found three bodies this weekend on the shores of Kaback, a town about 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the northern Sierra Leonean border.
The disaster struck on August 14 after Freetown, home to 1.2 million people and the capital of one of the world's poorest countries, had been pounded for three days by torrential rain.
According to the charity Save the Children, the disaster killed 122 children and left 123 orphaned.
Authorities in Sierra Leona have been burying unclaimed bodies in mass graves for the past week in a rush to avoid water-borne diseases such as cholera -- which are a major fear and another reason the country is telling people to stay away from the capital's beaches.
"Most of the debris have been removed," Kargbo said, including palm trees and building materials lying along the beach.
"You can come and have fun," he added, "but I would advise against swimming. The water is still full of mud and other particles that were washed into the sea".
"And you will also notice the smell".
Freetown (AFP) Aug 17, 2017
Sierra Leone buried at least 300 victims of devastating floods on Thursday, as fears grew of more mudslides and accusations of government "inaction" over deforestation and poor urban planning mounted. With the aim of clearing the overflowing central morgue, burials began around 1800 GMT in Waterloo, a nearby town where many victims of the Ebola crisis that hit the nation in 2014 were also la ... read more
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