People salvaging what is left of their belongings after Tropical Cyclone Idai, in Beira, Mozambique.(AP/PTI) 

Death Toll May Top 1,000 After Cyclone Rips Through Mozambique

(Bloomberg) -- A tropical cyclone that tore across Mozambique at the weekend may have killed more than 1,000 people, President Filipe Nyusi said, as heavy rains continued to inundate the southeast African nation and neighboring Zimbabwe.

“It’s clear that the next few days could be worse,” Nyusi said in comments broadcast on state radio. “If more than 1,000 lives have been lost, we won’t be surprised.”

Mozambique’s worst-recorded flooding occurred in 2000, when Cyclone Leon-Eline struck. About 800 people died that year. The country is the third-most vulnerable on the continent to climate change, according to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

So far, at least 98 people have died in Zimbabwe and 84 in Mozambique, according to official counts. More than 200 people are missing in eastern Zimbabwe, where crops and livestock have been destroyed, while continuing rains raise the risk that there will be further flooding from the Buzi and Pungwe rivers in Mozambique, the United Nations said.

“Alerts have been issued regarding the risk of flooding in the Buzi and Pungoe river basins in the next 72 hours, which could lead to further destruction and potential loss of life,” the UN’s humanitarian agency said in a statement.

Emergency services only began to reach the Mozambican port city of Beira after its airport partially reopened on Sunday, while other areas have been cut off by damaged infrastructure and flooding since Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall on Friday. The scale of the damage it caused is “massive and horrifying,” said Jamie LeSueur, who is leading an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent assessment team in Beira.

“It seems that 90 percent of the area is completely destroyed,” he said in a statement.

Returning Storm

Before forming a tropical cyclone on March 9, the system had dumped heavy rains over Mozambique and neighboring Malawi earlier this month, displacing more than 100,000 people and causing more than 60 deaths. The storm then moved back out to the southern Indian Ocean, where warm waters caused it to rapidly strengthen as it once again took aim at Mozambique’s coast.

The first incarnation of the storm last week resulted in a temporary halt to coal exports from Vale SA’s Moatize operation, Mozambique’s biggest producer, after railway lines were submerged. Operations have since resumed, the company said by email.

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., the state-owned power utility in neighboring South Africa, said the storm reduced the amount of electricity it imports from the Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa hydropower dam, exacerbating a shortage that’s resulted in blackouts.

Land Slides

In Zimbabwe, Idai swept across the east of the country, destroying roads and bridges in a region that’s recently experienced drought. The storm prompted President Emmerson Mnangagwa to cut short a visit to the United Arab Emirates to manage the government’s response to the disaster.

Zimbabwe is drawing from “strategic reserves” to send food to affected communities, Mnangagwa told reporters late Monday.

“Many drowned while others were killed in their sleep from swift and unexpected rockfalls, which demolished their homes and other forms of shelter,” he said. “Still others met their fate from overwhelming land slides.”

Heavy rains are forecast to continue into the middle of the week, making it difficult to reach stranded communities in both countries.

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