Mozambique has declared three days of national mourning after powerful cyclone winds and flooding killed more than 200 people and left a massive trail of destruction across swaths of southeast Africa.
Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique’s port city of Beira on Thursday before moving inland, brought winds of up to 170 kilometres per hour, which flattened buildings and put the lives of millions of people at risk.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said in a televised statement on Tuesday that the cyclone had killed more than 200 people but that more bodies were still being discovered.
In neighbouring Zimbabwe, the official death count stands at 98 but is likely to grow as hundreds are still missing.
More than 2.6 million people across southeast Africa have been affected in one of the worst weather-related disasters recorded in the southern hemisphere.
“This is the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique‘s recent history,” said Jamie LeSueur, who is leading rescue efforts in the hard-hit city of Beira for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Rescue crews are still struggling to reach victims, while aid groups say many survivors are trapped in remote areas, surrounded by wrecked roads and submerged villages.
“Challenges remain in terms of the search and rescue of thousands of people, including children,” UNICEF said. It estimated that 260,000 children were at risk in Mozambique.
The Red Cross has said at least 400,000 people have been made homeless in central Mozambique alone.
Beira, a low-lying coastal city of 500,000 people, is home to Mozambique’s second-largest port and serves as a gateway to landlocked countries in the region.
The UN said Cyclone Idai could be one of the worst weather disasters to hit the southern hemisphere.
“We are at a point where are taking people that have water up to their heads and taking them by helicopter or by boat to places where water are up to their ankles. We are in the life-saving phase. We are not at the point where we can do medical assessments because health is our second-most important thing,” Pedro Matos, emergency coordinator for the World Food Programme, told Al Jazeera.
Local media reported that there were food and fuel shortages in central Mozambique because Beira was cut off by road.
In eastern Zimbabwe, grieving families are rushing to bury their dead because the cyclone has knocked out power supplies and stopped mortuaries from functioning.
‘I lost two children’
Chipo Dhliwayo, a survivor in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, told Al Jazeera that she lost two children to the cyclone.
“My husband and uncle said the water was in the house. They were trying to pull out one of my children from under the rubble. He wasn’t breathing. Then the kitchen collapsed. That’s where my other child was killed,” she said.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Chimanimani in Zimbabwe, said that rescue efforts were carried out in hard conditions due to bad weather.
“It means helicopters can’t take off. Some of the people here have been waiting for days to hear news about their loved ones. They don’t know whether they are alive or dead,” she said.
Zimbabwe’s Grain Millers Association said 100 trucks carrying wheat destined for Zimbabwe were stuck in Beira.
The European Union announced on Tuesday an initial emergency aid package of $3.97m to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe for emergency shelters, hygiene, sanitation and healthcare.