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Cyclone Idai: more than 1,000 feared dead in Mozambique

President describes scale of disaster as huge, as Red Cross says most of Beira damaged or destroyed

More than 1,000 people are feared dead in a devastating cyclone that hit Mozambique on Friday, the country’s president has said.

Filipe Nyusi told Mozambican radio he had seen “many bodies” floating in the overflowing Pungwe and Busi rivers. “It appears that we can register more than 1,000 deaths,” he said, adding that more than 100,000 people were at risk because of severe flooding.

At least 215 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds are missing across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe from Tropical Cyclone Idai, according to government agencies and the Red Cross, which said 1.5 million people had been affected.

A more precise death toll and the true scale of the damage is not likely to be known soon, as many areas are cut off.Advertisement

“I think this is the biggest natural disaster Mozambique has ever faced. Everything is destroyed,” Celso Correia, the environment minister, said. “Our priority now is to save human lives.”

Residents of the devastated port city of Beira, where the Pungwe and Busi rivers flow into the sea, have had no communications since Idai hit. Many families have been frantically trying to get information about their relatives, but with no phones or internet access, no electricity and great chunks of the main road into Beira washed away and blocked by flooding, all they can do is wait.

Despite the difficulty of getting much-needed supplies, equipment, rescue teams and other people into the area, some humanitarian organisations managed to fly in and begin taking stock of the damage.

“The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous. It seems that 90 per cent of the area is completely destroyed,” said Jamie LeSueur of the Red Cross. “We are also hearing that the situation outside the city could be even worse. Yesterday, a large dam burst and cut off the last road to the city.”

An aerial shot of Beria made available by the IFRC on Monday.
 An aerial shot of Beira made available by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on Monday. Photograph: Caroline Haga/AP

Aerial footage of Praia Novo, an informal settlement on a Beira beach, showed homes that had been torn apart.

A British doctor who was in Beira when the cyclone hit and managed to get on a plane to Maputo on Sunday said he saw widespread damage to buildings, trees and power lines in the city. He said the poorest seemed to be the hardest hit.

“All those who were in reasonably built houses/ hotels during the storm who I heard about seemed to come through unscathed,” Mark Ellul wrote from Johannesburg. “I did hear of casualties and fatalities from those I talked to, who were all in poorly built accommodation in the centre of the city. My thoughts were constantly with those people (the majority) who have poorly built houses and had to endure this horrific storm with very little shelter.”

In images taken by the South African broadcaster eNCA , people were seen climbing trees and wading through waist-high water as ripped-off roofs and debris lay scattered across the city.

“We were in the house – actually we’d been told to move out of Beira – but we never thought and expected that it could have been as serious as it is. It was catastrophic, destructive, and we were in panic,” one Beira resident told eNCA.

“We were lucky but most of the people were not lucky,” another said.

Idai began as a tropical depression in the Mozambique channel on 4 March, dropping heavy rain over Mozambique and Malawi before heading back eastward in the direction of Beira, by which time it had become a cyclone. It has also devastated parts of neighbouring Zimbabwe.

“It was a miracle I managed to escape. Most of my relatives are missing,” said Casious Maunga, who worked in a banana plantation in Chimanimani, where hundreds are believed to have died and most houses were submerged under water. “I’m confused, I hope they are all alive.”

The cyclone will have far-reaching consequences beyond the flooding. Farmers in the region were about to harvest their maize crop when Idai hit, and many of their fields have been ruined, meaning widespread hunger in at least the year ahead.

Mozambicans and Zimbabweans criticised their leaders for their response to the crisis. Nyusi travelled to Swaziland on a courtesy visit to its king as the cyclone hit Beira, then announced he was cutting short his trip – exploiting a tragedy for political gain, according to one activist.

In Chimanimani, where people were running out of food as rain continued to fall, no help arrived, according to local residents.

“Government officials came in their big cars and they left us, all they did was to promise us assistance but we haven’t seen any help. We are hungry and starving,” another survivor, Grace Mungwari, said.

Additional reporting by Nyasha Chingono

Source : theguardian