More than 1,000 people are believed dead, 90% of the port city of Beira has been destroyed, and 1.5 million people have been affected after Tropical Cyclone Idai slammed into Mozambique late last week with wind speeds of 175 kilometres (110 miles) per hour, before pushing inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi.
With 84 confirmed dead so far in Mozambique, and 215 across the three affected countries, “everything indicates that we can have a record of more than 1,000 dead,” Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi said Monday.
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“The waters of the Pungue and Buzi rivers overflowed, making whole villages disappear and isolating communities, and bodies are floating,” he added, after flying over the affected area. “It is a real disaster of great proportions.”
Nyusi’s estimate would make Idai the deadliest tropical cyclone ever to hit Africa. “Emergency officials cautioned that while they expect the death toll to rise significantly, they have no way of knowing if it will reach the president’s estimate,” The Associated Press reports.
But numbers alone don’t tell the story. “The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous,” said Jamie LeSueur, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) team in Beira. “Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible,” and the area surrounding Beira “is completely destroyed” after taking a direct hit from the cyclone.
Within the city, “no building is untouched. There is no power. There is no telecommunications. The streets are littered with fallen electricity lines,” said Gerald Bourke of the UN World Food Programme. “The roofs on so many houses have fallen in, likewise the walls. A lot of people in the city have lost their homes.”
And while “Beira has been severely battered,” LeSueur added, “we are also hearing that the situation outside the city could be even worse. [Sunday], a large dam burst and cut off the last road to the city.”
“I think this is the biggest natural disaster Mozambique has ever faced,” said Environment Minister Celso Correia. “Everything is destroyed. Our priority now is to save human lives.”
In Zimbabwe, the Chimanimani district has been cut off and rescuers are struggling to reach survivors, “many of whom have been sleeping in the mountains since Friday after their homes were flattened by rock falls and mudslides or washed away by torrential rains,” Al Jazeera reports. “Many families cannot bury the dead due to the floods.” The country is already facing a severe drought, with 5.3 million out of a total population of 15 million in need of food aid, according to the United Nations.Idai is a reminder that “the people who’ve done the least to change the climate suffer the most,” tweeted 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben.
An editorial in the Zimbabwe state-owned newspaper, The Herald, called the storm a “wake-up call” on climate change. “The increase in cyclones and other extreme weather phenomena, like droughts and floods, clearly indicate that climate change effects are intensifying,” it stated. While “there is urgent need for medicines, shelter, food, and new homes for the survivors of Cyclone Idai” in the short term, the editorial calls for a “holistic approach to fighting the effects of climate change and ensure that communities are cushioned even in the event of devastating cyclones.”
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