Liberia Lifts Ebola Quarantine Monrovia Slum

Liberian authorities freed the West Point slum from its quarantine 10 days after imposing it. The military led the effort to isolate the impoverished community and the move sparked deadly clashes.

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DON GONYEA, HOST:

To Liberia next, the country hardest hit by the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Last month, the Liberian government put an entire neighborhood in the capital, Monrovia, under quarantine after an attack on an Ebola holding facility. Residents of the slum called West Point rioted, but Liberian troops enforced the blockade. The quarantine was lifted on Saturday, after 10 days. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton went to the area to find out what's happening today.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Two weeks ago, this West Point neighborhood of about 50,000 people was up in arms. Residents accused the government of importing Ebola into the area after a health center for suspected Ebola patients from all over Liberia's capital was set up in this slum district. The facility was trashed. Looters reportedly carried off mattresses, blankets and other items possibly infected with the Ebola virus. The move led to clashes, and the government imposed quarantine. But some West Point residents are jubilating, saying they've won because the blockade was lifted early. Information Minister Lewis Brown visited the neighborhood with the president during the quarantine period. He says West Pointers now understand the severity of the Ebola outbreak.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEWIS BROWN: What I saw actually impressed me. I saw a community now literally rallied against Ebola. West Point is today best positioned to fight the Ebola outbreak than many other communities.

QUIST-ARCTON: There are more Ebola education and awareness campaigns now in West Point, like this group, using songs and t-shirts, saying, Ebola is real. Believe it. Prevent it. Save Mama Liberia. Gemama Walker is one of the activists.

The message in the song...

GEMAMA WALKER: The message in the song is getting the people, forcing them to take the virus business serious.

QUIST-ARCTON: Take the virus seriously because it can kill.

WALKER: Yes.

QUIST-ARCTON: There are still Ebola deniers, but many others are fully aware of the reality of the virus. Today it's calmer here and bustling with activity. Rows and rows of tiny shacks and little shops, jostled one upon the other. There's a traffic jam, as brightly yellow-painted three wheel rickshaw taxis try to zoom up and down the narrow main road. And there's a long line of West Point residents impatiently waiting for a food delivery from the U.N. World Food Program, distributed by the Liberian Red Cross.

CHRISTIANA WILSON: We can't serve everybody today.

QUIST-ARCTON: Christiana Wilson from the Red Cross is coordinating food distribution to thousands of West Point residents.

WILSON: They are hungry, yes. They are hungry - they need food. And we are distributing the food. They will get the food. We have thousands of people that were quarantined for like, nine days or so. They have been released and they are desperate for food.

QUIST-ARCTON: Right next to the food distribution, a very pregnant 18-year-old Felicia Pewee is sitting with a pot of food cooking on the fire nearby. She says they're a little tired of preparing split peas from the food distribution so she's cooking something else today. But most importantly, she's thinking about the baby she's expecting.

FELICIA PEWEE: I want a good future for my baby.

QUIST-ARCTON: And do you think that's possible here in Liberia with this Ebola outbreak?

PEWEE: I was born in Liberia and there is nowhere I can go. I know one day, everything will be OK. And I believe that.

QUIST-ARCTON: A hope she shares with her fellow Liberians.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. NPR News, West Point.

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