‘Run!’ Tamba shouted: How one family survived Sierra Leone’s mudslides

Some 7,500 people will receive WFP assistance over the coming days

WFP West Africa
Aug 17, 2017 · 4 min read

Tamba Mara’s family narrowly escaped Sierra Leone’s mudslides. Today they’re destitute — surviving on the kindness of friends and support from the World Food Programme (WFP) and other humanitarian partners.

In the dark, they heard the noise of the ‘dirty’ coming, and felt the ground shaking. A whole mountainside had collapsed in their hometown of Regent, the mud rushing in and swallowing up houses and entire neighborhoods.

“Run!” shouted Tamba Mara to his family, still in their beds when the mudslide struck early Monday.

Wife Yeabu Conteh grabbed their six-week-old daughter and four-year-old son, and the family fled — the two older children running behind.

Many others were not so lucky. The massive mudslides and flash floods around Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown have left hundreds dead and missing. Now, with the ongoing rains, many are fearful of more to come.

Downloading WFP food for distribution in Regent, one of the communities hardest hit by the mudslides. Photo: WFP/Caroline Thomas

“This is an immense tragedy for the government and people of Sierra Leone, who have already endured so much hardship, including the Ebola outbreak,” says WFP Country Director Housainou Taal. “WFP and our partners are doing our utmost to ensure that lifesaving assistance is delivered as quickly as possible to those who need it the most.”

Hours after the disaster struck, WFP began distributing initial two-week rations of rice, beans, vegetable oil and salt to scores of people like Tamba and his family, who literally escaped with the shirts on their backs. The first distributions are targeting the neighbourhoods hardest hit by the mudslides, including the hillside community of Regent just outside the capital.

Rescue workers searching through the rubble of the mudslide that engulfed entire neighborhoods. Photo: WFP/Caroline Thomas

The United Nations has tasked WFP with supporting and helping to coordinate the humanitarian response. Beyond delivering food, the agency is also working with the government and other partners in search and rescue efforts, including logistics and geo-spatial mapping of disaster areas.

Overall, roughly 7,500 people will receive WFP assistance over the coming days, including rescue workers and families hosting the mudslide survivors. The most vulnerable — pregnant and nursing women and small children under five — will also receive specialized, nutrient-packed food supplements.

Tamba Mara and his wife Yeabu (here with their six-week-old daughter Yenkeh) have found shelter at a friend’s store. Photo: WFP/Caroline Thomas

Tamba’s wife Yeabu says the family of six will make the supplies stretch for as long as possible. “I will cook up two cups of rice in the morning, and two in the evening.”

The family’s memories of the mudslide are still vivid. As he ran for his life, Tamba was hit on the head by a rock. He fell but managed to pick himself up and keep running. The couple’s young son Kelfala was also injured and fell. But Yeabu gathered him up and carried on.

Like many other survivors, they are destitute. For now, they have shelter — a tiny, one-room shop loaned by a friend. “We have nothing: no place to live, no clothes,” says Yeabu, who lost five relatives in the mudslides.

WFP is delivering assistance to thousands of people affected by the mudslides, including rescue workers and mortuary attendants. Photo: WFP/Caroline Thomas

Like many other women in Freetown, Yeabu makes her living as a petty trader, selling biscuits on the street. But the deluge has destroyed her small stock.

Tamba works in construction. Today, he walks with a limp from the injuries he sustained during the mudslide. When the family arrived at Regent hospital for treatment, they found it packed with injured people. Hospital staff were overwhelmed.

Many are fearful of more flash floods and mudslides. Photo: WFP/Caroline Thomas

But as rescue workers dig up more bodies from the rubble, the family is thankful. Unlike many others, they escaped ‘the dirty’. They are still alive.

Story by Caroline Thomas

Insight by The World Food Programme