Monday 14 October 2019

Mozambique death toll from Cyclone Idai could exceed 1,000, president says

The Red Cross said 90% of Beira was damaged or destroyed.

People return to their homes following a cyclone in the coastal city of Beira, Mozambique (Josh Estey/CARE via AP)
People return to their homes following a cyclone in the coastal city of Beira, Mozambique (Josh Estey/CARE via AP)

By Associated Press reporter

More than 1,000 people are feared dead in Mozambique four days after a cyclone slammed into the country, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the floodwaters, the president has said.

“It is a real disaster of great proportions,” Filipe Nyusi said.

Cyclone Idai could prove to be the deadliest storm in generations to hit the impoverished south-east African country of 30 million people.

It struck Beira, an Indian Ocean port city of half a million people, late on Thursday and then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi with strong winds and heavy rain. But it took days for the scope of the disaster to come into focus in Mozambique, which has a poor communication and transportation network and a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.

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A woman makes her way to a school building being used as an emergency shelter (Josh Estey/CARE via AP)

Speaking on state Radio Mozambique, Mr Nyusi said that while the official death toll stood at 84, “it appears that we can register more than 1,000 deaths”.

UN agencies and the Red Cross helped rush emergency food and medicine by helicopter to the stricken countries.

Mount Chiluvo in central Mozambique was badly hit by flooding. One resident said he heard a loud noise, like an explosion, and suddenly saw a river of mud rolling towards his home.

“I was indoors with my children, but when we looked we saw mud coming down the road towards the houses and we fled,” Francisco Carlitos told Lusa, the Portuguese news agency. The family lost their home and possessions but safely reached higher ground.

The country’s president, who cut short a visit to neighbouring Swaziland over the weekend because of the disaster, spoke after flying by helicopter over Beira and two rural provinces, where he reported widespread devastation.

“The waters of the Pungue and Buzi rivers overflowed, making whole villages disappear and isolating communities, and bodies are floating,” Mr Nyusi said.

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A collapsed road near a bridge is seen in Chimanimani, south-east of Harare, Zimbabwe (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Emergency officials cautioned that while they expect the death toll to rise significantly, they have no way of knowing if it will reach the president’s estimate.

The Red Cross said 90% of Beira was damaged or destroyed. The cyclone knocked out electricity, shut down the airport and cut off access to the city by road.

The destruction in Beira is “massive and horrifying”, said Jamie LeSueur, who led a Red Cross team that had to assess the damage by helicopter because of the flooded roads.

More than 215 people were killed by the storm in the three countries, including more than 80 in Zimbabwe’s eastern Chimanimani region, according to official figures. Hundreds more were reported missing and nearly 1,000 homes destroyed in eastern Zimbabwe alone.

Mozambique is a long, narrow country with a 1,500-mile coastline along the Indian Ocean. It is prone to cyclones and tropical storms at this time of year.

In 2000, it was hit by severe flooding caused by weeks of heavy rain, a disaster made worse when a cyclone hit. Approximately 700 people were killed in what was regarded as the worst flooding in 50 years.

Mozambique won independence from Portugal in 1975 and was then plagued by a long-running civil war that ended in 1992. Its economy is dominated by agriculture, and its exports include prawns, cotton, cashews, sugar, coconuts and tropical hardwood timber.

More recently it has been exporting aluminium and electric power, and deposits of natural gas were discovered in the country’s north.

PA Media

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