Africa cyclone death toll surges past 600, 'worst yet to come'

Sunday, March 24, 2019

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BEIRA, Mozambique (AFP) — The death toll from a powerful cyclone that pummelled swathes of southern African countries, flooding thousands of square kilometres, on Saturday surged past 600 as diseases stalked tens of thousands of survivors.

At least 417 people have died in Mozambique, according to the government, bringing to 676 the total deaths when combined with those from neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Cyclone Idai smashed into the coast of central Mozambique on Friday last week, unleashing hurricane-force winds and rains that flooded the hinterland and drenched eastern Zimbabwe, leaving a trail of destruction.

Relief and rescue efforts entered a second week in the central parts of the impoverished country.

The UN, warning of more suffering, stepped up calls for help in Mozambique as aid agencies struggle to assist tens of thousands of people battered by one of southern Africa's most powerful cyclones.

A week after the storm lashed Mozambique with winds of nearly 200 kilometres (120 miles) per hour, survivors are struggling in desperate conditions — some still trapped on rooftops and those saved needing food and facing the risk of outbreaks of disease such as cholera.

“The situation will get worse before it gets better,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said Saturday.

“Aid agencies are barely beginning to see the scale of the damage,” she adding that “entire villages have been submerged, buildings have been flattened, and schools and health care centers have been destroyed”.

The storm wreaked an area about 3,000 square kilometres of land.

The World Food Programme late Friday night declared the flood crisis a level-three emergency, putting it on a par with crises in Yemen, Syria and South Sudan.

“The designation will accelerate the massive operational scale-up now underway to assist victims of last week's Category 4 cyclone and subsequent large-scale flooding that claimed countless lives and displaced at least 600,000 people,” said WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel.

More than two million people have been affected in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and in Malawi, where the storm started as a tropical depression causing flooding which killed 60 and displaced nearly a million people.

Hundreds are still missing in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Humanitarian agencies are racing against the clock to help people, many of whom have not had a meal in days.

Poor sanitary conditions mean disease is now a real concern.

“Already, some cholera cases have been reported in [the port city of] Beira, along with an increasing number of malaria infections among people trapped by the flooding,” the International Federation of the Red Cross said in a statement.


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