In Liberia village, shunned Ebola victims left to die
Ballajah - The only sounds in the abandoned Liberian village were the cries of a little girl, shut up with her mother's body inside the family home, starving and thirsty as she waited for death.
Eventually even the girl - 12-year-old Fatu Sherrif - fell silent as she too succumbed to the deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging her country and other parts of west Africa.
When AFP visited Fatu's village of Ballajah on Sunday, she had been locked away with her mother's body for a week after most residents fled to the forest to escape an outbreak of the virus.
Belongings lay abandoned around the village, the doors of some homes left open by those rushing to leave.
A few villagers remained, including Momoh Wile, a septuagenarian local chief, who told AFP Fatu's harrowing story.
Ballajah, some 150km from the Liberian capital Monrovia, is at the heart of one of the quarantine zones established in the country in a desperate bid to try to contain the spread of the disease.
Ebola has killed 1 069 people in west Africa since the start of the year, according to the World Health Organization. In Liberia alone, some 670 cases have been diagnosed, with 355 deaths.
Ebola was first detected in Fatu's family on 20 July when her father Abdulah fell sick, Wile told AFP.
The diagnosis sparked panic among the 500 or so people who lived in the village. They called health authorities but by the time a team finally arrived, Abdulah, 51, had been dead for five days.
His wife, Seidia Passawee Sherrif, 43, and Fatu were already sick. Only their son, Barnie, 15, tested negative for Ebola.
The health workers took Abdulah's body, and, according to Wile, told the villagers "not to go near the lady and her daughter".
"They were crying all day and all night, begging their neighbours to give them food but everyone was afraid."
Fatu's mother eventually died on August 10 but the girl's cries could still be heard around the otherwise abandoned village.
The doors and windows to the house were sealed shut and there was no way to see inside.
Reached by AFP on Tuesday, Wile said Fatu had died overnight, still alone, and still without water or food.
The only surviving member of the family, Fatu's 15-year-old brother Barnie, tested negative for the virus but was still shunned by his fellow villagers.
AFP found Barnie on Sunday taking refuge in one of the abandoned houses, alone and scrounging for food.
Looking tired and haggard, dressed in a dirty t-shirt and worn sandals, Barnie sobbed as he told his story.
"It is here that I sleep; it is here that I stay the whole day. Nobody wants to come near me and they know - people told them that I don't have Ebola," he said.
"When I am hungry, I go in the bush to look for greens," he said. "That's what God says so I accept."
Asked about Barnie a few days later, Wile said he had no news.
The villagers who abandoned Fatu and Barnie have meanwhile themselves been shunned by neighbouring towns also in fear of the spread of the virus, Wile said.
Health authorities in Liberia - where President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency on 6 August - refused to comment on the case.