Tropical storm Freddy, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the southern hemisphere, has killed 190 people in Malawi after ripping through southern Africa for the second time in a month, Malawi’s disaster management agency said on Tuesday.
The commercial hub of Blantyre was the hardest hit district, and severe flooding and rains have broken roads and bridges, hampering relief operations.
Freddy has also left a trail of destruction in Mozambique after it made landfall for the second time over the weekend.
The death toll in Malawi has jumped to 190 from the 99 reported on Monday, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs said.
As heavy rains continued to pummel the country, 584 people have been injured and 37 are still missing, the department said in a statement.
The record-breaking cyclone formed in early February and travelled the entire southern Indian Ocean. It pummelled the island states of Madgascar and Reunion before crossing into Mozambique and Malawi.
The cyclone has intensified a record seven times and has the highest-ever recorded accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, which is a measurement of how much energy a cyclone has released over time. Freddy recorded more energy over its lifetime than an entire typical U.S. hurricane season.
It’s set to be the longest-ever recorded tropical cyclone. The UN’s weather agency has convened an expert panel to determine whether it has broken the record of 31 days set by Hurricane John in 1994.
Rescue operations difficult
Families in Blantyre were counting the cost of the storm as they waited to collect the dead bodies of relatives from the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital mortuary.
The flooding and rains have hit rescue operations and made it difficult to get relief to those affected, aid agencies said.
“It’s a challenging operation in the sense that there’s been incidents of mudslides and so people are getting stuck in those mud accumulations,” said Estere Tsoka, emergency specialist at UN children’s agency UNICEF in Malawi.
“People are trying to find a place to hang in there for some time.”
Freddy pummelled central Mozambique on Saturday, ripping roofs off buildings and bringing widespread flooding around the port of Quelimane, before moving inland toward Malawi with torrential rains that caused landslides.
The full extent of the damage and loss of life in Mozambique is still becoming clear, but the overall death toll is now estimated at more than 220 in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar since Freddy first made landfall in February.
Alcidio Benjamim, a provincial manager for humanitarian organization ForAfrika in Mozambique, told Reuters that Sofala and Zambezia provinces were badly affected in the latest hit. He said 22,000 people or 4,000 families were seeking shelter in Zambezia province at accommodation centres as of Monday.
“We are expecting that [those] numbers will increase because there are inaccessible areas due to the floods. Some vehicles can’t go through the roads,” Benjamim said.
Freddy could sweep through Zambezia province again, bringing more wind and rain. “We will know by tomorrow morning if it’s more intense or not,” Benjamim added.
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