Advertisement

Bodies Floating Down Rivers In 'Worst Humanitarian Crisis' In Country's History

The number of people killed after a powerful cyclone and flooding hit Mozambique has risen to above 200, President Filipe Nyusi confirmed, but that number is expected to surge.

Cyclone winds and floods that swept across southeastern Africa affected more than 2.6 million people and could rank as one of the worst weather-related disasters recorded in the southern hemisphere, U.N. officials said on Tuesday.

Rescue crews are still struggling to reach victims five days after Cyclone Idai raced in at speeds of up to 170 kph from the Indian Ocean into Mozambique, then its inland neighbours Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Aid groups said many survivors were trapped in remote areas, surrounded by wrecked roads, flattened buildings and submerged villages, while the Red Cross said at least 400,000 people had been made homeless in central Mozambique alone.

“This is the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s history,” said Jamie LeSueur, who is leading rescue efforts in Beira for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Destruction after Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, March 16-17, 2019. IMAGE: Josh Estey via REUTERS

The organization said large areas to the west of the port city of Beira were severely flooded, and in places close to the Buzi and Pungwe rivers flood waters are meters deep, completely submerging homes, telephone poles and trees.

“The scale of suffering and loss is still not clear, and we expect that the number of people affected as well as the number of people who have lost their lives may rise,” LeSueur said.

The official death count in Mozambique has risen to at least 200, said president Filipe Nyusi on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting on the disaster.

President Nyusi earlier said he had flown over some of the worst-hit zones,  seen bodies floating in rivers and now estimated more than 1,000 people may have died.

The cyclone hit land near Beira on Thursday and moved inland throughout the weekend, leaving heavy rains in its trail on Tuesday.

Studies of satellite images suggested 1.7 million people were in the path of the cyclone in Mozambique and another 920,000 affected in Malawi, Herve Verhoosel, senior spokesman at the U.N World Food Programme said. It gave no figures for Zimbabwe.

In Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, people were worried about relatives they had not heard from.

A man looks at a washed away bridge along Umvumvu river following Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe March 18, 2019. IMAGE: Reuters /Philimon Bulawayo

Telma fa Gloria, a street vendor, told Reuters she had not heard from her mother, who she usually speaks to every day, or her siblings, for days. Her mother’s neighbourhood was in one of the worst-hit areas.

READ MORE: Cyclone Trevor Lashes North Queensland, Downgraded To Category Two

“I’m stitched up, with nothing to do,” she said, adding she was thinking of going to Beira to find out what had happened.

“I don’t have the strength to get the news I don’t want to hear, and I don’t wish anyone to hear.”