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Hundreds missing in Sierra Leone mudslides likely dead

Last Updated Aug 19, 2017 at 10:40 am EDT

Volunteers handle a coffin during a mass funeral for victims of heavy flooding and mudslides in Regent at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. The government has begun burying the 350 people killed earlier this week in mudslides in Sierra Leone's capital, and it warned Thursday of new danger from a large crack that has opened on a mountainside where residents were told to evacuate. (AP Photo/ Kabba Kargbo)

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – Survivors picking through the debris of Sierra Leone’s deadly mudslides were facing the reality Saturday that most, if not all, of the hundreds of people missing are dead, as relief and aid efforts intensified.

The death toll is already above 450 from the flooding and mudslides in the capital, Freetown, early Monday.

The number of missing could go higher than 600, according to Sierra Leone’s deputy minister of information and communications, Cornelius Deveaux.

Satellite images and census figures are being used to calculate a more accurate human toll.

Rescue officials have warned that the chances of finding survivors “are getting smaller every day.”

Large-scale-burials that began this week amid rainy weather continued amid the threat of further mudslides.

The government of the impoverished West African nation in recent days has warned residents to evacuate a mountainside where a large crack has opened. Authorities have told local media that thousands of people live in areas at risk, and the main focus is making sure they leave before further disaster.

The government plans to relocate those affected to temporary, and eventually permanent, shelters.

Deveaux said the government was mindful of the possible outbreak of health emergencies. Aid groups have been providing water filters, buckets, water storage tanks, soap and hygiene materials.

A plane was expected to arrive at the Lungi International Airport on Saturday with relief items, including medical help.