Mozambique: Death toll rises as 400,000 left homeless by cyclone and floods

Aid workers ‘desperately’ trying to save as many Cyclone Idai survivors as possible

March 19th, 2019: Drone footage filmed by the the Red Cross shows the sheer scale of the damage that Cyclone Idai has inflicted onto Mozambique. Video: International Red Cross


Aid workers are trying to rescue victims clinging to trees and crammed on rooftops against rapidly rising waters after a cyclone unleashed devastating floods in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

More than 238 people are dead, hundreds are missing and thousands more are 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 have been 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 drop food, water and blankets.

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 rain is expected to continue until Thursday.

“This is a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour,” said Herve Verhoosel of the World Food Programme. Many people are “crammed on rooftops and elevated patches of land outside the port city of Beira” and WFP is 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”, Mr Verhoosel said.

Four tons of high-energy biscuits were being air dropped as part of 20 tons of food that WFP will distribute.

Dams are 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 added.

The destroyed neighbourhood of Praia Nova, Beira, Mozambique. Photograph: Denis Onyodi/IFRC/EPA
The destroyed neighbourhood of Praia Nova, Beira, Mozambique. Photograph: Denis Onyodi/IFRC/EPA

Full horror still to emerge

The extent of the damage is not yet known as many areas remain impassible. With key roads washed away, aid groups are trying to get badly needed food, medicine and fuel into hard-hit Beira, a city of 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 rain is now rushing back through Mozambique, further inundating the already flooded countryside.

“It’s dire,” Caroline Haga of the Red Cross said, 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.

“We’re in a very scary situation,” she said.

Satellite images are helping the rescue teams target the most critical areas, she said.

Rescue operations are based at Beira airport, one of the few places in the city with working communications. The waters flooded an area of land more than 30 miles wide in central Mozambique, putting more than 100,000 people at risk, said aid group Save the Children.

“The assessment emerging from Mozambique today is chilling,” said Machiel Pouw, Save the Children’s response leader in Mozambique. “Thousands of children lived in areas completely engulfed by water.

“In many places, no roofs or tree tops are even visible above the floods.”

“The full horror, the full impact is only going to emerge over coming days,” Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane told reporters in Geneva.

The main cities and towns in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe hit by flooding
The main cities and towns in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe hit by flooding

Beira hit hardest

Torrential rain is still lashing the region on Tuesday, and Buzi town could be entirely submerged within 24 hours, the aid group said.

Hardest hit was Beira, where thousands of homes were destroyed. The city and surrounding areas were without power and nearly all communication lines were destroyed. Beira’s main hospital was also badly damaged.

The city and surrounding areas have no power and nearly all communication lines have been destroyed.

Large areas to the west of Beira have been severely flooded and water has completely covered homes, telegraph poles and trees, the Red Cross said.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said its work in Beira and other local health centres had “ceased completely” but it was working to resume operations. The group expects that water and hygiene needs will remain high in the coming days.

The nearby cities of Dondo and Chimoio were also badly affected.

In Zimbabwe the death toll rose to 98, the government said. The mountain town of Chimanimani was badly hit.

Several roads leading into the town were cut off, with the only access by helicopter. Residents expected the death toll to rise.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa arrived in the area on Tuesday, saying a number of countries, including the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Angola, were offering aid.

The US embassy in Zimbabwe said the US was “mobilising to provide support” to partners in the three affected countries, but provided no details.

The European Union and UK also pledged aid. Malawi’s government confirmed 56 deaths, three missing and 577 injured, with 11,000 households displaced in the southern district of Nsanje. – AP