Cyclone's huge floods leave hundreds dead in southern Africa

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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CHIMANIMANI, Zimbabwe (AP) — Aid workers rushed to rescue victims clinging to trees and crammed on rooftops against rapidly rising waters Tuesday after a cyclone unleashed devastating floods in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. More than 238 were dead, hundreds were missing and thousands more were at risk.

"This is the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique's recent history," said Jamie LeSueur, head of response efforts in Beira for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. At least 400,000 people were left homeless.

The rapidly rising floodwaters created "an inland ocean" in Mozambique, endangering tens of thousands of families, aid workers said as they scrambled to rescue survivors of Cyclone Idai and airdrop food, water and blankets.

Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi said the death toll could reach 1,000.

Emergency workers called it the region's most destructive flooding in 20 years. Heavy rains were expected to continue through Thursday.

"This is a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour," said Herve Verhoosel of the World Food Program. Many people were "crammed on rooftops and elevated patches of land outside the port city of Beira" and WFP was rushing to rescue as many as possible, he said.

Mozambique's Pungue and Buzi rivers overflowed, creating "inland oceans extending for miles and miles in all directions," Verhoosel said. Dams were at 95 per cent to 100 per cent capacity.

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

The extent of the damage was not yet known as many areas remained impassible. With key roads washed away, aid groups were trying to get badly needed food, medicine and fuel into hard-hit Beira, a city of some 500,000 people, by air and sea.

Cyclone Idai swept across central Mozambique before dropping huge amounts of rain in neighbouring Zimbabwe's eastern mountains. That rainfall is now rushing back through Mozambique, further inundating the already flooded countryside.

"It's dire," Caroline Haga of the Red Cross told The Associated Press from Beira. "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, Haga said. Rescue operations were based at Beira airport, one of the few places in the city with working communications.


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