When Cyclone Idai tore through Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi, 100-mile-an-hour winds and heavy rains left hundreds dead and millions more affected in some of the poorest cities in the Southern Hemisphere.
The cyclone had moved through Southeast Africa for two weeks but gained strength late last week, leaving what relief workers called “the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique's recent history.” Dams burst and rivers swelled, replacing entire neighborhoods in the country with deep, inland oceans. People clambered into trees and onto rooftops to avoid the tide of murky water. Even now, the flooding has knocked out power and cut off access to thousands of people that need urgent help.
“People visible from the air may be the lucky ones, and the top priority now is to rescue as many as possible,” Herve Verhoosel, of the World Food Program, told the Associated Press.
Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi put the death toll in his country near 200 but said that number could climb to more than 1,000 because the storm has made assessing casualties, especially in remote communities, nearly impossible. As he flew over the country, he reported seeing bodies floating in the water and declared three days of national mourning in a televised address on Tuesday.
Across Zimbabwe, officials have confirmed 98 dead, according to NBC News, but CBS News reported the death toll as high as 300. Chimanimani, a popular tourist destination which borders Mozambique, underwent the worst flooding. People there started burying their dead in shallow graves as the hospitals and morgues filled up, according to the AFP.
Deaths in Malawi have reached as high as 56, according to Africa News.
Across all three countries, more than 2.6 million people felt the storm’s impact. In central Mozambique alone, more than 400,000 people became homeless.
“I HAVE NOTHING”
Mozambique, where Cyclone Idai hit first on March 15, bore the brunt of the damage. Floodwaters there have reached have reached 20 feet deep in some areas, a spokesperson for the Red Cross told the New York Times. Almost all of Beira, the country’s fourth largest city and a port off the Indian Ocean, was destroyed, according to the New York Times.
"I have nothing. I have lost everything. We don't have food. I don't even have blankets. We need help," one woman in Mozambique told the BBC.
With Beira largely gone and major roads across the country flooded, many survivors of the cyclone are still stuck in remote areas and growing panicked, according to the BBC. Nyusi reported more than 100,000 people “at risk,” although it’s not clear exactly how many remain stranded. Delays reaching survivors, however, could lead to outbreaks of cholera and malaria, according to the New York Times.
Beira served as a major hub for commerce in Mozambique, and without access to its ports and major roads, food and fuel shortages have cropped up in more remote parts of the nation. The United Nations’ World Food Programme has already dispatched five tons of emergency aid and told CBS News it’s mobilizing aid for at least 600,000 more people. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization told the BBC its workers will need more logistical support.
The European Union sent $3.9 million in emergency aid to affected areas, according to the Washington Post, while Britain has pledged $7.9 million. The United Arab Emirates promised to send $5 million in aid like food supplies and medicine.
An average of 1.5 tropical cyclones like Idai hit Mozambique each year, according to National Geographic. But as climate change and warmer temperatures lead the atmosphere to retain more moisture, the storms bring a lot more heavy rainfall.
Cover image: Residents stand on rooftops in a flooded area of Buzi, central Mozambique, on March 20, 2019, after the passage of cyclone Idai. (Photo by ADRIEN BARBIER / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images)