Rabat – Cyclone Idai is likely the worst tropical storm to hit the southern hemisphere, with upwards of 1.8 million people affected in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, UN officials have said.
The cyclone made landfall in Mozambique at approximately midnight on Thursday, March 14, before moving inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi. It hit the Mozambique city of Beira as a high-end Category 2 storm with wind speeds up to 175 miles per hour.
Beira, a low-lying coastal city on the Indian Ocean, has been cut off from the rest of the country. Aid workers were only able to reach the city on Sunday, days after the storm first hit. All roads leading into the city have been cut off since a dam burst following the storm, flooding the last road into the city.
UN aid workers report that 90 percent of Beira is destroyed. “No building is untouched.”
Lack of medical care for the injured worsened the scale of devastation. All hospital activity in Beira and its surrounding areas has ceased completely, said Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi fears the numbers of dead will spike dramatically as more information is collected. The official death toll in Mozambique is at 84. But “everything indicates that we have a record of more than 1,000 dead,” said Nyusi in an address on national radio on Monday.
Nyusi spoke of seeing “bodies floating in the water” after the Rivers Pungue and Buzi broke their banks “wiping out entire villages and isolating communities.”
“This is a real humanitarian disaster of large proportions,” Nyusi said, warning that upwards of 100,000 people are in danger.
If Nyusi’s prediction is accurate, Cyclone Idai will be the deadliest tropical storm in recorded history to hit southern Africa.
Zimbabwe and Malawi
According to MSF, 56 people have died and 600 are injured in Malawi. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cross Societies (IFRC) described the damage as “massive and horrifying.” Echoing Nyusi, IFRC warned that the death toll will likely rise sharply as more is learned.
A resident of Mangochi in southern Malawi told Morocco World News that beyond the immediate damage, the heavy rains would have a devastating impact on the maize harvest this year. “In most of the southern region 50% will not harvest hardly anything. Of those who will harvest something, maybe they will only harvest 45-55% of what they are used to.” With a note of optimism, however, he noted that people “who planted rice will have a great harvest.”
In Zimbabwe, at least 98 people have died and 217 are missing. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, returning home early from a trip to the United Arab Emirates, made a disaster declaration for the affected areas.
The cyclone triggered floods, wrecking hundreds of homes in the eastern and western parts of the country, said authorities.
Zimbabwe is currently gripped by an economic crisis, making many worry about its ability to withstand the inevitable financial impacts of the cyclone.
The country of 15 million was already suffering from a severe drought before the cyclone hit.
The UK government has promised humanitarian aid worth £6 million in addition to tents and shelter kits to Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe.
Even as the countries scramble to deal with the logistics of dealing with such widespread destruction, some officials keep the larger picture in mind. Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty deputy regional director for southern Africa, spoke of the ways in which this cyclone indicates a larger trend in climate change.
“The devastation wrought by Cyclone Idai is yet another wake-up call for the world to put in place ambitious climate change mitigation measures,” she said.