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Death Tolls Expected to Rise as Millions of Africans Await After Record Disaster: UN

  • Drone footage shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in the settlement of Praia Nova, which sits on the edge of Beira, Mozambique, March 18, 2019

    Drone footage shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in the settlement of Praia Nova, which sits on the edge of Beira, Mozambique, March 18, 2019 | Photo: International Federation Of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies via Reuters

Published 19 March 2019

“There's a sense from people on the ground that the world still really hasn't caught on to how severe this disaster is,” said a spokesman for the Red Cross.

Rescue crews are still struggling to reach victims five days after Cyclone Idai raced in at speeds of up to 105 mph, hitting Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. UN officials said more than 2.6 million people have been affected in what could rank as one of the worst weather-related disasters recorded in the southern hemisphere.

Cyclone Leaves Over 125 Dead In Mozambique, Zimbabwe

Aid groups said many survivors were trapped in remote areas, surrounded by wrecked roads, flattened buildings and submerged villages.

The Horror in Malawi

“There's a sense from people on the ground that the world still really hasn't caught on to how severe this disaster is,” Matthew Cochrane, spokesman for International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

“The full horror, the full impact is only going to emerge over coming days,” he added.

As of last week, the death toll in Malawi has stood at 56 from heavy rains and flooding. Caroline Haga, a senior International Federation of the Red Cross official in Beira, said the situation could be far worse in the surrounding areas where houses were not as sturdy and which remained completely cut off by road access.

In 14 districts of Southern Malawi more than 900,000 people are still in need of humanitarian aid following last week’s flooding that killed dozens of people. Flood survivors need emergency shelter, clean water and medical supplies.

“We don’t have enough food at all. So we need a lot of food. We don’t know, perhaps the lorries we see here, they are to be distributed to us. We don’t know, because up to now we haven’t received any food at all,” said Isaac Falakeza, a displacement camp manager,

The Malawian government is trying to mobilize aid to those affected, but humanitarian assistance is in short supply. Over 16,000 households have so far been displaced. And with further rains expected in the south of the country, affected families will only have to hope for rapid intervention from aid agencies.

1,000s could be dead in Mozambique

Meanwhile, the official death count in Mozambique stands at 84, but its President Filipe Nyusi said Monday he had flown over some of the worst-hit zones, and has seen bodies floating in rivers.

A general view shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique | Source: Reuters

The number of people killed could exceed 1,000, Mozambique’s president Filipe Nyusi said Monday, putting the potential death toll greatly more than current figures.

In Beira, Mozambique's fourth-largest city which is home to 500,000 people, a large dam had burst, complicating rescue efforts further. Large swaths of land were completely submerged, and in some streets people waded through knee-high water around piles of mangled metal and other debris.

In the early hours of Monday morning, rescuers launched dinghies onto chest-high waters, navigating through reeds and trees, where some people perched on branches to escape the water, to rescue those trapped by the flooding.

Eighty-four deaths have been confirmed so far in Mozambique as a result of Cyclone Idai, which has also left a trail of death and destruction across Zimbabwe and Malawi, with vast areas of land flooded, roads destroyed and communication wiped out.

President Nyusi said on Radio Mocambique that he had flown over the affected region, where two rivers had overflowed. Villages had disappeared, he said, and bodies were floating in the water.

"Everything indicates that we can register more than 1,000 deaths," he said. Nyusi flew over areas that were otherwise accessible, and some of which had been hit by flooding before Cyclone Idai.

Beira, which sits at the mouth of the Pungwe River, is home to Mozambique's second-largest port, serving as gateway for imports to landlocked countries in southeast Africa. The director of a company that jointly manages the port, Cornelder, based in the Netherlands, said the port had been closed since last Wednesday but would hopefully resume operations Tuesday.

Two cranes would be working and the company had two large generators and enough fuel for now, though damage to access routes and roads further inland was more likely to cause a problem, said the director, who asked not to be named. The fuel pipeline running from Beira to Zimbabwe was believed to be intact, the person said, though communication was still very patchy and therefore the situation at the port remained uncertain.

In February 2000, Cyclone Eline hit Mozambique when it was already devastated by its worst floods in three decades. It killed 350 people and made 650,000 homeless across southern Africa, also hitting Zimbabwe.

Death Toll Expected to Rise in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, the cyclone killed 98 people while more than 200 are missing, the government said Monday. No new numbers had been released since the cyclone's arrival in the country.

Rescuers were struggling to reach people in the country’s Chimanimani district, cut off from the rest of the country by torrential rains and winds of up to 170 kph that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.

Zimbabwe's treasury has released US$18 million to rebuild roads and bridges, and also provide water, sanitation and electricity. Families have begun burying the dead but the death toll is expected to rise.

Many people had been sleeping in the mountains since Friday, after their homes were flattened by rock falls and mudslides or washed away by torrential rains.

The Harare government has declared a state of disaster in areas affected by the storm. Zimbabwe, a country of 15 million people, was already suffering a severe drought that has wilted crops.

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