The death toll from a cyclone that smashed into Mozambique and Zimbabwe rose to more than 300 as rescuers raced against the clock to help survivors and the UN led the charge to provide aid.
“We already have more than 200 dead and nearly 350,000 people are at risk,” Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said on Tuesday, while the government in Zimbabwe said that about 100 people had died, but the toll could be three times that figure.
The UN said that the storm had also unleashed a humanitarian crisis in Malawi, affecting nearly 1 million people and forcing more than 80,000 from their homes.
Four days after Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall, emergency teams in central Mozambique fanned out in boats and helicopters, seeking to pluck survivors from roofs and treetops in an inland sea of floodwater.
Rescue South Africa CEO Ian Scher said that the helicopter teams were having to make difficult decisions.
“Sometimes we can only save two out of five, sometimes we drop food and go to someone else who’s in bigger danger,” he said. “We just save what we can save and the others will perish.”
The city of Beira, Mozambique’s second-largest city, was immediately cut off after the storm. According to the Red Cross, the cyclone damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the city of half a million people.
The government had declared a national emergency and ordered three days of national mourning, Nyusi said.
“We are in an extremely difficult situation,” he said, warning of high tides and waves of about 8m in the coming days.
On Monday, Nyusi had said he feared more than 1,000 had died and more than 100,000 people were in danger.
The storm also lashed eastern Zimbabwe, leaving about 100 dead, a toll that could be as much as 300, Zimbabwean Minister of Local Government July Moyo said after a Cabinet briefing.
“I understand there are bodies which are floating, some have floated all the way to Mozambique,” he said.
At least 217 others are missing and 44 stranded, officials said.
The UN World Food Programme said it was mobilizing aid for about 600,000 people, saying that the world did not yet appreciate the scale of the “massive disaster.”
So far, it has dispatched more than 5 tonnes of emergency provisions to the affected areas.
In Malawi, 920,000 people have been affected by the cyclone and 82,000 people have been displaced, the UN said.
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