21 March 2019

Mozambique: Rescue Teams Race to Save Hundreds Trapped By Cyclone

Beira /Mozambique — Aid workers rushed to save people trapped by floods around the Mozambican port city of Beira on Wednesday, after a powerful cyclone killed hundreds and left a trail of destruction across swathes of southeast Africa.

Some survivors were still clinging onto trees or roofs, waiting for rescue teams almost a week after the storm first struck. Roads around Mozambique's port city of Beira were swamped and it was raining heavily, complicating rescue efforts and meaning aid had to be flown in by helicopter or plane.

Cyclone Idai lashed Beira with winds of up to 170 km per hour (105 miles per hour) last Thursday, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk.

At least 200 people have died in Mozambique and 98 in Zimbabwe, but the death toll is likely to rise as rescuers are still finding bodies.

Mozambique, whose tiny $13 billion economy is still recovering from a currency collapse and debt default, has declared a national state of emergency as it faces catastrophic flooding in Idai's wake.

The worst-hit areas were close to the Buzi river west of Beira, said Caroline Haga, an official with the International Federation of Red Cross. Two rivers, including the Buzi, burst their banks after the storm dumped rain on Zimbabwe and Malawi at the weekend, sending torrents of water into Mozambique and creating a "second emergency".

Aid agencies changed tack from dealing with a situation mostly involving damage to property and infrastructure caused by the cyclone to facing something much more serious.

"The flooding is completely different in that this is now a matter of life or death," Haga said.

Rescuers dropped high-energy biscuits, water purification tablets and other supplies to people surrounded by nothing but water and reddish-brown mud on Wednesday, she said.

The floods have also brought the threat of waterborne and respiratory diseases, including pneumonia.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, who declared three days of national mourning starting on Wednesday, has said the eventual death toll from the cyclone and ensuing floods could rise to more than 1,000.

Travis Trower, principal of Rescue South Africa, said many people remained trapped on islands of land around Beira but that the "acute rescue phase" - pulling people from rooftops and trees - was largely complete.

Trower described scenes where mothers passed him their children from trees and crowds of people swarmed around rescue helicopters when they were able to land.

On Tuesday, rescuers saved 167 people around Beira with the help of South African Air Force helicopters.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said the families of 30 Portuguese citizens in Beira had not been able to contact their loved ones, raising concerns about their safety. He said several dozen Portuguese had lost their homes.

Around 2,500 Portuguese citizens work in Beira, according to the government.


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