400 killed, hundreds missing in devastating Sierra Leone mudslide (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Mudslide and flooding kill 300 in Sierra Leone's capital

"You can see people openly grieving. there is a lot of hurt to address", said UNICEF spokesman John James.

An excavator ploughed away at the mountainside and ambulances rushed back and forth to the city centre with bodies and wounded, but rescue efforts were hampered by bad roads and the weather, a witness said.

Vice President Victor Foh told Reuters at the scene: "It is likely that hundreds are lying dead underneath the rubble".

Red Cross details 300 were dead and 600 missing while a morgue assessment reveals about 400 people have lost lives.

A total of 286 bodies were brought to a local hospital on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency quoted an official as saying.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a press conference on Tuesday that the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone has launched emergency procedures and is closely monitoring the situation.

"During this hard period of national tragedy, I wish to express our solidarity with you and the people of Sierra Leone", President Sirleaf said.

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Laura Ngo-Fontaine, Senior Communications Officer for the Red Cross, said the organisation's search and rescue operations are ongoing.

While praying for the peaceful repose of the souls of the deceased, the former regional Speaker also prayed God to grant the sub-region, especially the affected families and the people of Sierra Leone the fortitude to bear the irreversible loss.

The city's drainage system was quickly overwhelmed, leaving stagnant water pooling in some areas while creating unsafe churning waterways down steep streets. Freetown residents spoke of their struggles to cope with the destruction and find their loved ones.

Freetown also is plagued by unregulated building of large residential houses in hilltop areas.

Freetown resident Fatmata Kamara says she had come out of her house to use the toilet when she saw the mud and boulders rushing down Monday morning. She managed to escape by climbing onto the roof.

Freetown, an overcrowded coastal city of 1.2 million, is hit each year by flooding during several months of rain that destroys makeshift settlements and raises the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera. It's thought around three-thousand people also lost their homes.

British charity Street Child has launched emergency flood relief appeal to support thousands of people affected by the mudslides.

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