Weather experts are warning that a “staggering” amount of rain is set to continue battering parts of southeastern Africa, already devastated by a vicious cyclone that has killed more than 150 people in several countries.
The International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said in a statement on Saturday that at least 126 people had died in Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa after a week of heavy rains and flooding. In Zimbabwe, the country’s information ministry put the death toll from flooding at 31.
On Sunday, hundreds of people remained missing, while tens of thousands were cut off from roads and communication lines.
A glimpse into the trail of destruction to infrastructure and nature as Cyclone Idai sweeps over Eastern Zimbabwe. @ICRC_SAfrica @IFRCAfrica @ItalyinZimbabwe @SwedeninZW @BritishRedCross @RedCross @SABCNewsOnline @ZBCNewsonline @kimstambuli @takemorem1 pic.twitter.com/zm9L0D92lZ
— Zimbabwe Red Cross (@ZrcsRed) March 16, 2019
Mozambique’s central port city of Beira was hardest hit, with the airport closed and many homes destroyed.
The IFRC said aid workers were trying to reach the city – Mozambique’s fourth largest and home to some 500,000 people – by road in order to help establish a response operation and assess the damage.
“The extent of the destruction remains unclear, but first-hand information provided by our local colleagues indicate that many parts of Beira have been seriously damaged,” said Jamie LeSueur, IFRC’s head of emergency operations, who is leading the team.
“Houses have been destroyed, trees and electric poles have fallen. Electricity and communications have been cut.”
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Espungabera, some 300km from Beira, said the destruction caused by the “enormous” amount of rain was hampering aid efforts.
“Since the cyclone hit Mozambique’s coast, there have been torrential rains and strong winds – rivers have swollen and power lines have blown down,” said Webb.
“Cyclones are common on the Indian Ocean at this time of year, but few of them hit the land and this has been particularly destructive,” he added.
The storm made landfall on Mozambique on Thursday, with wind gusts of about 160 kilometres per hour, causing ocean waves of up to nine metres high.
‘Further heavy downpours’
Al Jazeera meteorologist Everton Fox said on Sunday that even though the winds had died down, the torrential rains were expected to continue – before stopping next week.
“Over the next three days, we are going to see as much as 900mm of rain,” he said. “That’s a staggering amount of rain that will inevitably cause further problems,” added Fox.
“We are going to see further heavy downpours and the flooding will worsen.”
— harumutasa/aljazeera (@harumutasa) March 17, 2019
Amid the warnings, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi and his Zimbabwean counterpart, Emmerson Mnangagwa, cut short trips abroad to deal with the effects of the powerful cyclone.
The two leaders had both left their countries as the cyclone hit their respective countries, drawing criticism from some who thought they should have stayed at home to address a disaster whose overwhelming magnitude has not been experienced in years.
State radio in Mozambique reported that Nyusi planned to visit affected areas after returning from Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, on Sunday.
Mnangagwa was returning home from the United Arab Emirates “to make sure he is involved directly with the national response by way of relief to victims of Cyclone Idai,” the information ministry said on Sunday.