There’s increasingly dire news from the nation of Mozambique in the wake of Cyclone Idai, which made landfall late Thursday near the port city of Beira, home to more than a half million people.
In a statement to the nation on Monday, President Filipe Nyusi said 84 people are confirmed dead and hundreds remain missing – or worse. “Everything indicates that we can register more than 1000 deaths,” Nyusi said. Bodies are floating in the swollen Pungwe and Buzi rivers, which flow to Beira from the north and west, respectively, and entire villages are washed away from the massive storm flooding.
Cyclone Idai made landfall with sustained winds of 175 kilometers (109 miles) per hour and gusts of 213 km/h and heavy rainfall, but then the system stalled over a region already damaged by its first pass in early March. Not just Mozambique, but also Malawi and Zimbabwe, have seen dozens of fatalities. More than 120 died in Malawi and Mozambique before the storm returned as a strong Category 2-3 cyclone.
That stall hasn’t yet resolved. The Instituto Nacional de Meteorología issued another high-level red alert effective through noon Tuesday for the same hard-hit areas. Sofala province, where Beira is the capital, and Manica, as well as parts of Inhambane, Tete and Gaza, will see heavy rainfall rates of 150mm in 24 hours through Thursday. Severe thunderstorms and winds of 60 km/h are interfering with the relief efforts.
Those relief efforts were already challenging. The initial round of the storm more than 10 days ago left much of the region inaccessible. There were 1,583 kilometers of road in five provinces of central and northern Mozambique that were damaged, including Sofala, with 11 bridges and related infrastructure destroyed. The arrival of the fully matured Cyclone Idai made a difficult situation exponentially worse.
Idai destroyed hospitals, schools and other critical infrastructure, with power and communication completely cut off in Beira and Dondo. Electricity provider EDM says some of its infrastructure is submerged. The airport is closed, and National Road 6 is shut down from flooding – a road that normally sees hundreds of trucks a day carrying goods to Malawi, Zimbabwe and other nations from Beira port.
The airport is about 10 kilometers inland from the port, which is now heavily damaged, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (ICRC). Relief workers said 90 percent of Beira was completely destroyed, and described the scale of damage as massive and horrifying.
“Almost everything is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible,” said Jamie LeSueur, an ICRC team leader who made access to the city by helicopter. “Beira has been severely battered. But we are also hearing that the situation outside the city could be even worse.”
Idai death toll at 70 in Zimbabwe
For that matter, the situation is worse outside of the country too. Parts of eastern Zimbabwe are inundated and struggling to cope with a new crisis. Damaged roads and missing bridges are making it difficult to reach Chimanimani and other locations in Manica, where 70 people are reported to have died. Most of them are in Chimanimani, with five in Masvingo and Mashonaland East, according to government officials who said fatal flooding and mudslides claimed lives.
Zimbabwe media reports record-setting rainfall of 407mm at one Chimanimani station and 203mm at another.
“Several bridges that access the area have been destroyed by Cyclone Idai. Essential support is being delayed because of this,” said Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Defence Force has been deployed to a situation described by the government as more serious than initially thought in Harare.
Water is scarce because all related facilities are damaged or under water, and food is being airdropped to villages.
“We are all grieving the tragic loss of life from Cyclone Idai,” said President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who cut short a trip to the United Arab Emirates because of the disaster. “Our togetherness as a nation continues to provide strength to those suffering. I am particularly proud of our incredible special forces who are showing great bravery to help those who have been affected.”
Idai impacts in Malawi
At least 45 people have died in Malawi, according to local reports, and that’s believed to be in addition to the 56 who lost their lives in the initial onslaught of Idai flooding.
“The rainfall has calmed down for now but the skies are grey and cloudy,” said Matthew Pickard, the country director for humanitarian aid agency CARE in Malawi. “Floods caused significant destruction last week. With the cyclone leading to more rainfall, the already inundated areas may face even greater destruction and losses.”
CARE officials said Cyclone Idai may be shaping up to be the most deadly and damaging cyclone ever recorded in the southeast African region, with at least 1.5 million people affected. As with other agencies, the United States-based CARE said it was having difficulty reaching the storm-stricken areas of Malawi.
The concern continues to mount as more damage is revealed – and more rain falls. “Nothing has been able to withstand the fury of the cyclone and the subsequent floods. Houses throughout the region have been destroyed, even those built of brick and concrete,” said local media in Mozambique.“Fields are submerged and food lost in a humanitarian crisis yet to be evaluated.”