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Search for Survivors of Sierra Leone Boat Accident Continues

Officials in Sierra Leone say at least seven people are confirmed dead and as many as 50 others are feared drowned after a boat capsized in rough seas near the country's northern coast.

An official with the Sierra Leone navy, Commander Moses Miller, says sailors were able to rescue eight survivors from the accident and are continuing to search for more. It is not clear how many passengers were on the boat when it sank on Thursday.

Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Authorities say the boat capsized in rough currents of the Great Scarcies River while it was heading north from Freetown on Thursday.

Naval commander Moses Miller says the search for survivors is taking place near the country's northern border. He says naval personnel left early Friday to join members of the local boat association in the search.

"We were able to rescue eight by the time my boys got there, and then we also discovered two corpses," he said. "The search is still going on."

Local journalist Kelvin Lewis says boating accidents are common between July and September during Sierra Leone's rainy season. He says August is the worst and that the boat was probably overloaded.

"Most of the people who travel with these boats are traders. They take foodstuffs like several bags of rice, onions, gallons of cooking oil," he explained. "They are loaded. These are just like a slightly bigger version of a canoe."

Lewis says it is almost impossible for such a boat to have carried the number of passengers authorities are estimating.

Last July, 25 drowned when a wave toppled their boat during heavy rains, also in the Great Scarcies River.

Officials say the heavy rains have washed away homes in Freetown during the past week, forcing about 500 people to flee.