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Worsening Ebola Crisis Elevates Sierra Leone's State Of Emergency


The West African nation of Sierra Leone is moving deeper into a state of emergency because of the Ebola crisis. A three-day national lockdown ended last Sunday, but just last night three new districts home to over a million people were put under quarantine. NPR's Anders Kelto traveled through southern Sierra Leone and joins us now from the city of Bo. Good morning, Anders.

ANDERS KELTO, BYLINE: Good morning, Audie.

CORNISH: So as we said you've been traveling the country. What have you been seeing?

KELTO: Well, there actually aren't many vehicles on the road because all public transportation here has been shut down. The police have set up checkpoints along major roads. Police officers and military personnel are there forcing people to get out of their cars to have their temperature taken and to wash their hands with chlorine and checking people's credentials, and there are fuel shortages. Just yesterday here in Bo we were trying to get gas and there was a huge crowd of people at the station; I would estimate about 100 people all try to get to the pump. And we found out that that was the only gas station in the city that currently has gas, and I'm told that that's the case across the country.

CORNISH: And what about these districts that have been put under quarantine, what can you tell us?

KELTO: Well, I'll give you an example. We passed through a town called Moyamba Junction. It's sort of a crossroads area where travelers stop to buy supplies for long drives. And about two weeks ago a health worker there contracted Ebola, apparently continued treating people, and then died and received a traditional burial where people put their hands on the body and kissed it and touched it. And 14 people were infected by that health worker. And as soon as health workers discovered that the town was immediately quarantined, and now you're not allowed to stop there as you pass through; you can only drive directly through the area.

CORNISH: Now are people in these quarantine towns actually getting what they need to survive in terms of food or other supplies?

KELTO: Well, yesterday we visited a warehouse where supplies for these quarantined areas are stored, and we got a tour from this young, military lieutenant, and he showed me everything they had in there. And it was pretty impressive, they had a lot of these thousand gallon water containers, big jugs of oil, cans of food and other supplies. And he showed me the stuff that's given to Ebola victims who when they're diagnosed are often forced to burn everything that they own, including their mattresses.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You can see this is a 4-by-6-by-5 inches mattresses. We give them onions, we give them this and we give them soap as well. These are assorted slippers also for them. We have both male and female slippers.

KELTO: Oh, slippers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Slippers. So I believe it is a good start.

KELTO: So from what I saw the military seems to be doing a good job of distributing these essentials.

CORNISH: Now is there any sense that any of these efforts - the lock down, the quarantines - are actually helping to contain the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone?

KELTO: It's tough to say. Right now there's no evidence that the disease is slowing down and the predictions that keep coming out are becoming increasingly dire. The lockdown last weekend according to the government revealed about 130 new cases of Ebola, and people who have been in contact with those confirmed cases are now being traced. So some people are saying that that's a success if only a small one. And the president has even raised the possibility of doing another nationwide lockdown sometime in the near future, but I think the big concern now is that most new cases of Ebola are appearing closer to the capital, in the areas right around Freetown. And my sense is that people here are bracing for a possible eruption of Ebola there in the biggest city.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Anders Kelto in Southern Sierra Leone. Anders, thank you.

KELTO: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.