‘Everything is destroyed’: 850,000 people in danger as Cyclone Idai moves west

Almost 850 000 people have been affected by severe rains and flooding caused by cyclone Idai, a tropical cyclone that hit the Mozambican port of Beira on Thursday night. Parts of Malawi and Zambia have also been affected. So far, at least 145 people have been killed, although this number is expected to rise as more information emerges from the affected areas.

“I think this is the biggest natural disaster Mozambique has ever faced. Everything is destroyed. Our priority now is to save human lives,” Mozambique’s environment Minister Celso Correia said.

Winds of up to 170 kilometres per hour, coupled with heavy rains, have dismantled homes and buildings and left much of the region without power. Cyclone Idai is now moving further west, potentially impacting hundreds of thousands more poeple.

In Zimbabwe, the worst-hit area was Chimanimani District in the east, which was hit by flash flooding. So far, 65 people are confirmed killed, while another 150 are missing. “We are very worried because all these houses were just suddenly submerged under water and literally washed away and that is where we have about 147 missing,” said Joshua Sacco, a local lawmaker. “It’s very sad and the situation is dire.”

In Malawi, the current death toll is at 56. Many families now lack basic supplies like food and water, with the situation likely to get even worse as flood waters rise. Humanitarian responders are struggling to access rural areas, some of which are difficult to get to in the best of times due to a lack of infrastructure.

Thousands of children have been left especially vulnerable and require urgent humanitarian assistance, said Unicef, the United Nations children’s agency. “Hundreds of thousands of children have already seen their lives turned upside down by the devastating floods, and now Cyclone Idai has brought further suffering to families in its path,” said regional director Leila Pakkala. “Many children will have lost their homes, schools, hospitals and even friends and loved ones.”

In an editorial, Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper said that climate change was responsible for the extreme weather, and that the country must brace itself for more. “Tropical Cyclone Idai brings vital lessons that climate change is now with us. The deadly cyclone, whose effects were mainly felt in Manicaland, left death and destruction of property in its wake. The increase in cyclones and other extreme weather phenomena like droughts and floods, clearly indicate that climate change effects are intensifying…As a country, we should be prepared to counter those effects of climate change so that people are assured that even in the case of such major disasters, life will still go on.”

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Simon Allison
Simon Allison, The Continent
Simon Allison is the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Continent. He is a 2021 Young Africa Leadership Initiative fellow.

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