MORE than a thousand people were homeless on Thursday after a fire ravaged one of the biggest slums in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, the country’s Red Cross Society said.
The fire broke out on Wednesday evening in Susan’s Bay, a seafront slum of homes made from corrugated sheets and scavenged material lying close to the city’s centre.
Around 400 homes were destroyed, a local resident said.
‘We are taking stock of the damage for humanitarian assistance,’ an official with the Sierra Leone Red Cross said at the disaster site.
An AFP journalist who visited the slum found a desolate vista of smoking remains where hundreds of people looked for any belongings that had escaped the flames.
A senior police officer at the Eastern Police Division said there were no known fatalities.
‘Several people were injured while escaping the inferno and some children lost contact with their family but the police is working hard to trace them and reunite them with their families,’ the officer said.
An official with the national fire service said the cause of the blaze was unknown.
Cramped, narrow streets in the slum made it impossible for fire engines to get through to extinguish the flames, the official said.
‘I was (working in) my business when I saw fire at the slum – when I rushed home, everything was in ashes,’ said one resident, Ya Marie Kamara.
‘I lost everything. We need help now,’ she said in tears.
Another resident, Foday Turay, said the fire was fanned by heavy winds coming in from the sea and shifted direction, hampering efforts to put it out.
‘About four hundred or more houses are gone. Most of us here are traders so fortunately most people were out doing business when the fire happened,’ he told AFP.
‘I was at the market when I heard about the fire, so then I came back here and there was no way for me to enter my house,’ said Ya Alimamy Ofinoh.
‘I just fetched my children and went to somewhere safe until the fire was put down,’ she said.
Freetown City Council tweeted earlier that the slum had been ‘gutted.’
‘The extent of the damage is unknown but thousands are likely to have been affected,’ it said.
The European Union’s ambassador to Sierra Leone, Tom Vens, said the EU was looking at ways of sending aid to the victims.
‘We will reflect with [the] authorities on needed structural measures to reduce risk of such catastrophes re-occurring,’ he said on Twitter.
The UN’s representative in Sierra Leone, Babatunde Ahonsi, visited the site ‘to assess the extent of the disaster,’ his office said.
The diamond-rich former British colony is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Its economy was ravaged by a 1991-2002 civil war that claimed 120,000 lives, followed by an Ebola epidemic that ran from 2014-16.
Further blows have come from a slump in global commodity prices and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.