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‘Women, babies trapped in trees’ after deadly Mozambique storm

  • Six days after Cyclone Idai, rescuers scramble to save hundreds stranded by floodwaters amid fears death toll will rise.

Rescue workers in Mozambique are racing against time to save hundreds of people clinging onto roofs and trees around the devastated city of Beira. These efforts come days after a powerful cyclone triggered flash floods, submerging entire villages and wiping out communities across southeastern Africa.

Aid workers on Wednesday spoke of women trapped in trees “throwing their babies” onto rescue boats. They talked of plucking people from head-deep water, only to strand them in patches of land where the water reached their ankles.

Cyclone Idai hit Beira with winds of up to 170 kilometres per hour last Thursday, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi killing hundreds and putting the lives of millions at risk.

United Nations officials say this could be the worst ever weather-related disaster to have struck the southern hemisphere.

Authorities say at least 200 people have died in Mozambique and 98 in Zimbabwe, but the death toll is likely to rise as rescuers continue to find bodies.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, who has declared a national emergency and three days of mourning starting on Wednesday, has warned that the eventual number of those killed in the cyclone and flooding could rise to more than 1,000.

According to earlier estimates by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 90 percent of Beira and its surrounding areas appear to be “completely destroyed”.

Josias Elias, found clinging to a tree almost submerged in water, said his entire village near Beira was flooded.

“There’s no more reason to go back. All of our houses have been destroyed,” he said.”The devastation is vast. As far as the eye can see, it’s just water, you can’t see any land.”

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

On Wednesday, rain was continuing to fall in and around the city of some 500,000 people, complicating rescue efforts and meaning that aid had to be flown in by helicopter or plane.


People gather on the roof of a house submerged by floods in Buzi on Wednesday [Adrien Barbier/ AFP]

Meanwhile, the UN’s humanitarian office said the central area of Buzi, populated by some 200,000 people, was at risk of becoming “at least partially submerged”.

The WFP said the cyclone and flooding have affected at least 2.6 million people in the region, causing a “major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour”.

The agency said analysis of satellite imagery suggested that up to 1.7 million people in the country had been in Idai’s path. Another 920,000 were affected in Malawi.

“Everyone is doubling, tripling, quadrupling whatever they were planning” in terms of aid, said Caroline Haga of the Red Cross in Beira. “It’s much larger than anyone could ever anticipate.”

The European Union released $3.9m in emergency aid, and Britain pledged up to $7.9m.

The chairman of the African Union Commission said it would provide $350,000 in immediate support to the countries. The United Arab Emirates pledged $4.9m to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, the Emirates News Agency reported, citing the Emirates Red Crescent. Norway said it was providing $700,000.

Tanzania’s military has sent 238 tonnes of food and medicine, and three Indian naval ships have been diverted to Beira to help with evacuations and other efforts.

More to follow…

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