Mozambique Flood Deaths Climb in Wake of Cyclone Idai

Deaths from flooding in the wake of Cyclone Idai climbed to more than 300 as Mozambique’s government battled to deal with the devastation wrought by one of southern Africa’s most deadly recorded storms. The toll may rise dramatically.

Almost a week after the Category 3 storm made landfall, heavy rains continued in Mozambique’s Sofala province. Rescue workers have saved 3,000 of 15,000 families stranded in the southeastern African nation’s flooded central areas, but efforts are hampered by damage to roads and bridges, Celso Correia, spokesman for the government’s emergency response team, said Thursday. Neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi have also been badly hit.

“We’re struggling to rescue people, distribute medicines, blankets, shelter,” Correia told reporters in Beira, the port city that bore the brunt of the storm when it landed March 15. Mozambique declared a state of emergency on Tuesday.

At least 139 people have also died in Zimbabwe, which Idai hit after tearing through central Mozambique. The country’s Information Minister said Thursday that 189 others are missing, while 136 are trapped in inaccessible locations and more than 4,300 have been displaced. Waters from eastern Zimbabwe are flowing toward Mozambique’s coast, worsening the flooding there.

Downpours continued to hamper rescue efforts, Caroline Haga, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said Wednesday. Aircraft operating from the international rescue coordination center at the airport in Beira were temporarily grounded because of bad weather that day.

“We are looking at a severe humanitarian emergency here that is affecting thousands and thousands of people. It’s so much more severe than we were expecting,” Haga said in an interview. “These people are now trapped in trees and on rooftops of buildings.”

The floods are similar to those experienced in Mozambique when Cyclone Leon-Eline struck in 2000, killing 800 people. President Filipe Nyusi said the death toll from this month’s floods could rise to 1,000 in his country alone. That would make it Africa’s third-most deadly flooding on record, according to data from the Brussels-based International Disaster Database.

Bridges Destroyed

The storm caused flooding over an area of 394 square kilometers (152 square miles), according to European Union satellite imagery. At least 1.5 million people have been affected, the United Nations said. In Buzi, just south of Beira, the situation is particularly dire.

“We had a report of 10,000 people on the roofs of buildings and in the football stadium,” Adrian Nance, who is helping to co-ordinate air-rescue operations, said in an interview in Beira late Wednesday. “We are calling this a complex humanitarian emergency.”

Only five helicopters were so far involved in the rescue operations, with another three or four hoped for soon, Nance said.

In Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s tour of the affected areas near the Mozambican border Wednesday revealed grim details.

“The last place we visited where three main rivers merge, an entire village was washed away,” he said in comments broadcast on state television. “I think those are the bodies which are now being found in Mozambique.”

Before Idai became a tropical cyclone, it had already caused flooding and more than 70 deaths in Mozambique and neighboring Malawi earlier this month.

Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi are among the world’s poorest countries, and many of those affected by the flooding are smallholder farmers who were about to harvest their corn crops. Much of the region had suffered a drought before the floods.

–With assistance from Godfrey Marawanyika.