Early in the morning on August 14, 2017, after three days of torrential rainfall, devastating floods and mudslides occurred in and around Sierra Leone‘s capital city, Freetown. Heavy rainfall extended throughout the country during an especially wet rainy season, causing what was one of the most deadly and destructive disasters in decades. In the Western Area of Sierra Leone, rainfall totaled 41 inches (104 cm) since July 1 – nearly tripling the region’s seasonal average. The destructive behavior of the mudslides was exacerbated by a number of factors, including the city’s location at or below sea level, poor infrastructure, and ineffective drainage system. The final death toll listed 1,141 people dead or missing. More than 3,000 people were left homeless and hundreds of buildings were damaged or destroyed by the mudslides.
After the initial threat receded, President Ernest Bai Koroma responded to the disaster and urged for unity amid recovery efforts. Widespread medical and search teams donated by the international community assisted thousands of people, and established temporary relocation centers. While dealing with damaged passageways and continued downpours, excavation teams recovered over 300 bodies in the first few days alone, overwhelming the Connaught Hospital mortuary in Freetown and resulting in mass burials to curb the threat of disease. The government of Sierra Leone launched its first ever cholera vaccination campaign on September 15, reaching over 500,000 citizens.