In a gesture of sympathy and solidarity, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last Thursday joined her Sierra Leonean counterpart, President Ernest Bai Koroma, for the burial of last Monday's mudslide and flood victims at the Paloko Cemetery in Waterloo on the outskirts of Freetown.
Over 400 people have been confirmed dead while more than 600 remain missing from the disaster. Workers struggled in the thick mud and debris of smashed homes last week in search of more bodies.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf departed Monrovia on Thursday August 17 after signing the Book of Condolence at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Congo Town, Monrovia. She arrived at Lungi International Airport and was received by Sierra Leone Vice President Victor Foh and a host of senior government officials. Liberia's Minister Counselor cum Deputy Head of Mission to Sierra Leone, Geraldine Bass-Golokeh, was also on hand to receive the President.
President Sirleaf's delegation included Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, Transport Minister Fredrick Norkeh, Cllr. Yvette Chesson-Wureh of Angie Brooks International Center, and Deputy Gender Minister Yallah, among others.
Families watched as their dead who the rescue workers managed to retrieve from the mudslide were being interred. (Photo: Claudia Smith)
In a brief tribute, President Sirleaf extended to President Koroma, the government and people of Sierra Leone deepest sympathy on behalf of the people and government of Liberia. "We say to you how much we feel the pain; how we share the sorrow with all of those who have been victimized by this tragic event," President Sirleaf told mourners at the cemetery.
She entreated God's blessings on President Koroma and the people of Sierra Leone, particularly family members of the victims, assuring them that God will give them the strength and courage to overcome the disaster that had befallen the nation. She added: "We pray that God will give the leadership of this country the strength and courage to accept this major loss."
Both leaders wore surgical masks as the decomposing bodies were laid into the ground and deposited wreaths on the tombs.
President Koroma thanked President Sirleaf, the government and people of Liberia for the solidarity shown to the people of Sierra Leone at such a time. He encouraged his people to remain steadfast and keep the hope in spite of what had happened.
"We will bury our loved ones, but we will not bury our hopes," President Koroma told mourners. He told members of the bereaved families that the government of Sierra Leone will stand by them, emphasizing that Sierra Leone will rise again. President Sirleaf and delegates returned home Thursday evening.