At least 270 bodies have been recovered so far from a mudslide in the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown and the search continues for more, the mayor said on Tuesday.
Authorities say more than 300 were killed in and around Freetown on Monday following heavy rains, with many trapped under tons of mud as they slept.
The death toll from massive mudslides in Sierra Leone's capital was certain to rise as workers searched for an untold number of people buried in their homes.
Dozens of houses were covered in mud when a mountainside collapsed in the town of Regent on Monday morning, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Africa in recent years.
"We have a total of 270 corpses which we are now preparing for burial," Freetown mayor Sam Gibson said outside city hall.
A mass burial on Tuesday will free up space for more bodies in the central morgue, which is overloaded.
President Ernest Bai Koroma urged residents of Regent and other flooded areas around Freetown to evacuate immediately so that military personnel and other rescue workers could continue to search for survivors buried beneath debris. His office also encouraged people to relocate to safer parts of Freetown.
Rescue centres have been set up around the capital to register and assist victims, he said in a television address on Monday evening.
Some rescue workers and volunteers were digging through the mud and debris with their bare hands in a desperate search for missing relatives. Military personnel have also been deployed to help with the operation in the impoverished West African nation.
More bodies were expected to be found as floodwaters receded.
Initial Red Cross estimates have said as many as 3,000 people are left homeless but the figure is expected to rise. Communications and electricity also have been affected.
The mortuary at Connaught Hospital has been overwhelmed by the number of dead, with bodies spread out on the floor.
The Sierra Leone National Broadcasting Corp showed people trying to retrieve the bodies of relatives, and others carrying the dead to the morgue in rice sacks.
"In places, entire communities seem to have been washed away and whatever is left is covered in mud," said Abdul Nasir, programme coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Many of the impoverished areas of Sierra Leone's capital are close to sea level and have poor drainage systems, exacerbating flooding during the rainy season. Freetown also is plagued by unregulated building of large residential houses in hilltop areas.
Deforestation for firewood and charcoal is one of the leading factors of worsening flooding and mudslides. Freetown's drainage channels also are often clogged because of garbage dumping due to insufficient sanitation services in many areas.
'More than 200' dead in Sierra Leone mudslides