By Reuters and Al Jazeera
The number of people killed in a powerful storm and preceding floods in Mozambique could exceed 1000, officials said on Monday, putting the potential death toll greatly more than current figures.
The death toll from Cyclone Idai continues to rise as southern African countries struggle to deal with the devastating aftermath of the torrential downpours.
The powerful storm has killed at least 64 people in Zimbabwe , government officials say, while in neighbouring Mozambique the death toll has jumped to 84.
Idai made landfall in Mozambique on Thursday before proceeding to Zimbabwe and Malawi, causing flash floods, wrecking infrastructure and leaving communities without electricity.
More than a million people have been affected, including tens of thousands who have been displaced, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
In Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands, the heavy rains had died out by Sunday – but only after causing widespread destruction.
In Chipinge, an eastern town some 450km southeast of the capital, Harare, transport links were cut off after a road was damaged due to water pressure.
A bus carrying passengers bound for Harare was stuck in a mush of soft tar and mud. A few small cars managed to bypass the sludge when volunteers and soldiers laid down a makeshift path made of wooden planks.
Speaking on Radio Mocambique, President Filipe Nyusi said he had flown over the affected region, where two rivers had overflowed. Villages had disappeared, he said, and bodies were floating in the water.
“Everything indicates that we can register more than one thousand deaths,” he said.
The cyclone has also killed 89 people in Zimbabwe, an official said on Monday, while the death toll in Malawi from heavy rains and flooding stood at 56 as of last week. No new numbers had been released following the cyclone’s arrival in the country.
Caroline Haga, a senior International Federation of the Red Cross official who is in Beira, said the situation could be far worse in the surrounding areas, which remained completely cut off by road and where houses were not as sturdy.
Nyusi flew over areas that were otherwise accessible, and some of which had been hit by flooding before Cyclone Idai.
In Beira, Mozambique’s fourth-largest city and home to 500,000 people, a large dam had burst, further complicating rescue efforts.
Large swathes of land were completely submerged, and in some streets people waded through knee-high water around piles of mangled metal and other debris.
In the early hours of Monday morning, rescuers launched dinghies onto chest-high waters, navigating through reeds and trees – where some people perched on branches to escape the water – to rescue those trapped by the flooding.
Meanwhile, rescuers were struggling to reach people in Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani district, cut off from the rest of the country by torrential rains and winds of up to 170 km per hour that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.
Zimbabwean information ministry official Nick Mangwana told Reuters the number of confirmed deaths throughout the country was now 89. The body count is expected to rise.
The Harare government has declared a state of disaster in areas affected by the storm. Zimbabwe, a country of 15 million people, was already suffering a severe drought that has wilted crops.
South Eastern Africa Gateway
Beira, which sits at the mouth of the Pungwe River, is also home to Mozambique’s second-largest port, serving as gateway for imports to landlocked countries in southeast Africa.
The director of a company that jointly manages the port, Cornelder, based in the Netherlands, said the port had been closed since last Wednesday but would hopefully resume operations on Tuesday.
The fuel pipeline running from Beira to Zimbabwe was believed to be intact, the person said, though communication was still very patchy and therefore the situation at the port remained uncertain.
In February 2000, Cyclone Eline hit Mozambique when it was already devastated by its worst floods in three decades. It killed 350 people and made 650,000 homeless across southern Africa, also hitting Zimbabwe.
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