MAPUTO/HARARE – The death toll in the powerful tropical cyclone that struck Mozambique last week could rise to 1,000, the African country’s president said on Monday.
Last week, Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique and moved on into Malawi and Zimbabwe, leaving – according to initial reports – nearly 200 people dead across the three countries.
The death toll in Mozambique stands at 84, and “it appears that we can register more than 1,000 deaths,” President Filipe Nyusi said after visiting the most heavily affected provinces on the weekend.
Nyusi, who made a helicopter overflight of Sofala, Zambezia, Manica and Tete on Sunday, added that more than 100,000 people are at risk in an area inhabited by 1.1 million people.
Flooding washed away entire towns and cut off other areas, according to the president’s narrative, which coincides with video footage captured by witnesses and international organizations.
Cyclone Idai slammed into Beira, which has a population of 500,000, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Zimbabwe, on Thursday night, cutting electric power and communications lines.
Beira, one of Mozambique’s main cities, has suffered massive destruction, according to the International Federation of Red Cross.
“The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous. It seems that 90 percent of the area is completely destroyed,” said Jamie LeSueur, who was heading the IFRC assessment team in Beira.
“Almost everything is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed,” he added. “Some affected communities are not accessible.”
South Africa, which has suffered power outages due to the storm, sent troops to Malawi and Mozambique to help in search and rescue operations.
The storm then moved over western Zimbabwe on Friday and cut off the students at a boarding school in Chimanimani, a town popular with tourists as it is adjacent to a national park.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a state of emergency in the wake of the cyclone.
“My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by Cyclone Idai,” Mnangagwa tweeted.
“Rescue operations are underway and we are grateful for the bravery of the men and women of the Zimbabwean armed forces who, along with our local and international partners, are participating in the urgent rescue efforts,” he added.
The United Nations and humanitarian partners in Mozambique have appealed for $40.8 million to provide urgent aid to the African country, although it remains unclear how much damage the storm caused.