Sierra Leone mudslide: Christian NGOs plead for support as 600 still missing

Almost 400 people have died and at least 600 still missing after a devastating mudslide and flooding hit Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital.

A national emergency has been called and several Christian charities are warning thousands more are still in danger with more than 3,000 homes destroyed and heavy rains expected to continue.

A section of Sugar Loaf Mountain collapsed in the early hours of Monday while most people were asleep.Reuters

The tragedy struck in the early hours of Monday when a hillside collapsed in the Regent area, 15 miles east of Freetown.

Thought to be the worst flooding in Sierra Leone for two decades, bodies are still being pulled from the rubble with Catholic charity CAFOD's country director describing corpses littering the streets.

'Things are really bad on the ground,' Kayode Akintola said.

'The immediate need of people affected are water and food, meanwhile thousands of families who have lost their homes need shelter, and there are also serious health concerns.

'Our prayers are with those who have been affected by this tragedy.'

Many of the victims were asleep in bed when the disaster struck as a section of Sugar Loaf Mountain fell away.

As well as immediate relief efforts, relief agencies warned of an outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea.

Aid agencies are warning of a follow-up crisis with waterborne diseases such as cholera spreading.Reuters

President Ernest Bai Koroma fought back tears as he visited the Regent area on Monday and said the destruction was 'overwhelming us'.

He pleaded: 'Entire communities have been wiped out. We need urgent support now.'

Tearfund's country representative Gaston Slanwa described a 'great outpouring of love' as hundreds welcomed people fleeing the landslide into their homes and churches and schools opening to house the newly homeless.

He said: 'I drove around Freetown yesterday and saw several houses had disappeared, roads completely gone. On one bridge I saw two people who were already dead being pulled out of the water then put in the ambulance right before my eyes. In just one of the church communities we work through, 60 people have died and 300 have lost their homes. We are working closely with all our partners 24/7 to understand how best to support them, as well as liaising with the government and other agencies to carry out needs assessments and co-ordinate our response.'

World Vision's national director James Chifwelu said the loss of life was 'disturbing' but added, 'It's most disturbing that many children in their school uniforms were unfortunately fatally caught up in the landslide and many more are homeless, orphaned and will be without food and clothing for days to come.

'This certainly calls for immediate action,' he said.