Wednesday 21 August 2019

More than 350 die in cyclone with hundreds still missing

Helping hand: People are escorted to safety by aid workers at the airport of the coastal city of Beira in central Mozambique. Photo: Getty Images
Helping hand: People are escorted to safety by aid workers at the airport of the coastal city of Beira in central Mozambique. Photo: Getty Images

Ryan Wilkinson

More than 350 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds more are missing after the cyclone that unleashed devastating floods in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Aid workers rushed to rescue victims clinging to trees and crammed on rooftops amid fears that many thousands of people are at risk.

In Mozambique, the rapidly rising floodwaters created "an inland ocean", endangering tens of thousands of families, aid workers said as they scrambled to rescue survivors and air-drop food, water and blankets following Cyclone Idai.

"This is the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique's recent history," said Jamie LeSueur, head of response efforts for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The United Nations allocated $20m (€17.6m) from its emergency response fund to ramp up the humanitarian response in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The European Union and Britain have also pledged aid, and the US Embassy in Zimbabwe said America was "mobilising to provide support" to partners in the three affected countries.

Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi said that more than 200 people had been confirmed dead in his country. Earlier he said the death toll could reach 1,000.

At least 400,000 people have been left homeless.

In Zimbabwe's eastern mountain areas bordering Mozambique, residents struggled to cope with the disaster.

"There was a house there, it was buried and the owners may have been buried with it. They are missing," said Zacharia Chinyai, of the Zimbabwean border town of Chimanimani, who lost 12 relatives in the disaster.

The cyclone took residents by surprise, Mr Chinyai said.

"We heard news on the radio" about the flooding in neighbouring Mozambique, he said. "But we never thought we could also be victims... No-one told us it was going to be this devastating."

Chipo Dhliwayo lost her daughters, four-year-old Anita and eight-year-old Amanda.

"I wasn't able to save anything except this baby," she said of her lone surviving child, a six-month-old son, who suffered an eye injury and scars to his face.

The family was sleeping when their house collapsed, the 30-year-old said.

"Trees, rocks and mud were raining on us. I grabbed my son, my husband took Anita and we ran to a hut, but that also collapsed. Anita died there," she said.

Amanda was trapped in the rubble of their house and her body was not found until the next day.

"I knew she was already dead. I cried the whole night," Ms Dhliwayo said. "I lost so much that I wish I had just died."

The cyclone created southern Africa's most destructive flooding in 20 years, said emergency workers. Heavy rains are expected to continue through today.

Mozambique's Pungue and Buzi rivers overflowed, creating "inland oceans extending for miles and miles in all directions", said Herve Verhoosel, of the World Food Programme (WFP).

"This is a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour," Mr Verhoosel said. He said people were "crammed on rooftops and elevated patches of land".

"People visible from the air may be the lucky ones and the top priority now is to rescue as many as possible," he said.

Many areas remained impassible. With key roads washed away, aid groups were trying to get badly needed food, medicine and fuel into the hard-hit city of Beira, on Mozambique's coast, by air and by sea.

"It's dire," Caroline Haga, of the Red Cross, told the Associated Press from Beira, a city of 500,000. "We did an aerial surveillance yesterday and saw people on rooftops and in tree branches. The waters are still rising and we are desperately trying to save as many as possible."

Satellite images were helping the rescue teams target the most critical areas, Ms Haga said.

Rescue operations were based at Beira airport, one of the few places in the city with working communications.

The waters flooded a swathe of land of almost 400sqkm in central Mozambique, according to the European Union's global observation programme, which was mapping the crisis, putting more than 100,000 people at risk.

"The full horror, the full impact... is only going to emerge over coming days," Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said.

Irish Independent

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