Neighborhood is cut off from rest of capital.
MONROVIA, Liberia – Liberia’s halting efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak spreading across parts of West Africa quickly turned violent Wednesday when angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbed-wire barricades, trying to break out of a neighborhood here that had been cordoned off by the government.
Soldiers repelled the surging crowd with live rounds, driving hundreds of young men back into the neighborhood, a slum of tens of thousands known as West Point.
One teenager in the crowd, Shakie Kamara, 15, lay on the ground near the barricade, his right leg wounded by a bullet.
Lt. Col. Abraham Kromah, the national police’s operations chief, arrived minutes later. “This is messed up,” he said, looking at the teenager while deploring the surging crowd.
“They injured one of my police officers. That’s not cool. It’s a group of criminals that did this. Look at this child. God in heaven help us.”
The clashes marked a dangerous new chapter in West Africa’s five-month fight against the Ebola epidemic, already the deadliest on record. Outbreaks in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea have mostly been concentrated in rural areas, but the disease has spread to a major city, the Liberian capital.
Fighting Ebola in an urban area — particularly in a place like West Point, an extremely poor and often violent place that still bears deep scars from Liberia’s 14-year-long civil war — presents challenges that the government and international aid organizations have only started grappling with.
The risks that Ebola will spread quickly, and the difficulties in containing it, are multiplied in a dense urban environment, especially one where the health system has largely collapsed and residents appear increasingly distrustful of the government’s approach to the crisis, experts say.
Many people in West Point were already seething at the government’s attempt to open an Ebola center at a school in their neighborhood, complaining that suspected Ebola patients from other parts of the city were being brought there as well.
Their neighborhood, they feared, was effectively being turned into a dumping ground for the disease.
On Saturday, hundreds of people stormed the school, allowing suspected Ebola patients to flee, heightening concerns that the disease would spread through the city.
On Wednesday, the residents of West Point awoke to learn that their entire area was under government quarantine. Soldiers and police in riot gear blocked roads in and out of the seaside neighborhood. Coast guard officers stopped residents from setting out aboard canoes from the neighborhood with the highest number of confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola.
As residents realized that the entire area had been sealed off from the rest of the capital, frustrations began to mount. In one attempt to break through the cordon, at an entrance to the neighborhood, soldiers fired in the air to dispel the protesters. But some of the bullets hit the crowd as well.
Liberia has already been hit hard by the Ebola epidemic, with an estimated 576 of the 1,350 deaths reported in the four nations that have registered cases in the region: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.