LILONGWE. – The death toll from Tropical Cyclone Freddy has passed 300 as the body count continues to rise, with authorities in Mozambique and Malawi taking several days to assess the extent of the damage and loss of life.
The storm tore through Southern Africa over the weekend for a second time after first making landfall in late February. It is one of the longest-lasting tropical cyclones ever recorded, and one of the deadliest in Africa in recent years.
At least 53 people have died in Mozambique’s Zambezia province, authorities said late on Wednesday, more than doubling their previous count, with 50,000 more still displaced.
Malawi has reported 225 dead so far, with hundreds more injured and some still missing. The storm had killed about 27 people in Madagascar and Mozambique before lashing Mozambique for a second time.
Continued rain and power outages have hampered search and rescue efforts this week, as the storm caused severe flooding, sweeping away roads and farms with bodies and houses buried in mud.
Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera has called for 14 days of mourning for the victims and the government has pledged US$1,5 million in assistance even as more than 20 000 households have been displaced by the mudslides and flooding.
But there was still anger about the lack of rescue services even as hundreds remain missing.
Locals have been organising themselves into groups, retrieving bodies while waiting for help from the authorities.
“There’s no rescue team, no police officer, any government official,” said David Phiri, a survivor still searching for four missing family members. “Only ordinary people, people that lost people.”
“We don’t even know what people are going to eat for lunch today or supper,” Yusuf Nthenda, member of parliament for Mulanje West, said. “We have not yet received any relief items as we speak.”
After four days of destructive wind and rain, local communities and relief workers are now confronting the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy which has killed more than 250 people and displaced tens of thousands of others across Malawi and Mozambique and may still cause further damage.
Cyclone Freddy dissipated over land late Wednesday, but weather monitoring centres warned that countries are still vulnerable to flooding and landslides.
At least 225 people have been killed in southern Malawi, including within the financial capital of Blantyre, officials said. Around 88 000 people are still displaced and parts of the region remain inaccessible. Malawi’s president, Lazarus Chakwera, has declared a 14-day national mourning period.
“Roads and bridges have been swept away cutting off communities from much-needed support. Houses and homes have been destroyed leaving families stranded and out in the cold,” said Mathew Pickard, the regional director for southern Africa at the aid organization CARE International.
“As rescue efforts continue, the death toll is anticipated to rise.”Hundreds of people have been moved to camps but food and clean water is still scarce, said Andrew Mavala, executive director of the Malawi Network for Older Persons, with dozens of older people who don’t know how they’ll recover.
In Malawi and Mozambique, where cholera outbreaks were already ongoing when Cyclone Freddy ripped through, deaths from the disease and other water-borne illnesses are also expected to rise.
Cyclone Freddy is “very massive in terms of health disruption,” said Ahmed Ogwell, the acting director of the Africa’s Centre for Disease and Control Prevention. He warned there’s “every likelihood we may see cross-border spread” of cholera, which already has outbreaks in Mozambique and Malawi. Both countries recorded more than 3,000 new cholera cases in the past week.
Scientists say human-caused climate change has worsened cyclone activity, making them more intense and more frequent. The recently-ended La Nina that impacts weather worldwide also increased cyclone activity in the region in recent years. – Agencies