‘Bodies are floating’: Entire city destroyed
A NATIONAL disaster has been declared after Cyclone Idai left a trail of death, destruction and homelessness in southern Africa.
Countless people have been killed, several hundred more are still missing and almost a million have been left destitute and in need of aid and basic services.
Where there were once streets teemed with life, there is only the swamped shells of homes left in the wake of the cyclone that hit Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
As footage taken from the skies over Mozambique's central port city of Beira, a city of half a million people, shows, there is no discernible trace of life left.
More than 90 per cent of the entire city was destroyed, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
For those left clinging to life in the decimated city, there is more pain to come as high tides could bring 8m waves crashing into the city in the coming days.
This is the destruction caused by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique.— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 19, 2019
There are fears it may have killed more than 1,000 people.
More on the storm's destruction here: https://t.co/FwtLuGBiQq pic.twitter.com/0I6LhKyEeC
We made it to #Beira. Coming in by helicopter we saw significant damage, barely any houses seemed intact, power lines and trees are down, many parts are flooding. What we hear that the situation outside the city is even worse #cycloneIdai @ifrc @IFRCAfrica @CruzVermelhaMOZ pic.twitter.com/dVGsHhyviv— Caroline Haga (@hagacaroline) March 17, 2019
The official death toll of Cyclone Idai - the deadliest storm in generations to hit Mozambique and Zimbabwe - rose to more than 300 overnight, but that is expected to rise again, dramatically.
Officials say it's hard to count the bodies because they are floating so far in both nations. In Zimbabwe, politicians say some of the bodies have even floated into over the country's border.
"I understand there are bodies which are floating, some have floated all the way to Mozambique," local government minister July Moyo grimly remarked after a cabinet briefing.
"We already have more than 200 dead, and nearly 350,000 people are at risk," Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi announced, while the government in Zimbabwe said around 100 people had died but the toll could be triple that figure.
"This is a real humanitarian disaster. More than 100,000 people are in danger" - Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 19, 2019
More than 1,000 feared killed by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique https://t.co/QEWoATgiV4 @AFPgraphics pic.twitter.com/Nk1oJIkkz5
Mr Nyusi said Idai, which tore through the impoverished southeast African country of 30 million people five days ago, is a "disaster of great proportions" - adding that 100,000 people are still at risk.
People were left clinging to trees, homes were destroyed and roofs ripped from concrete buildings when the storm slammed the country, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in floodwaters.
"The waters of the Pungueand Buzi rivers overflowed, making whole villages disappear and isolating communities, and bodies are floating," Mr Nyusi
The cyclone struck Beira, an Indian Ocean port city of half a million people late Thursday and then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi with strong winds and heavy rain.
But it took days for the scope of the disaster to be understood in Mozambique, which has a poor communication and transportation network and a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.
More than 215 people were killed by the storm in the three countries, including more than 80 in Zimbabwe's eastern Chimanimani region and more than 50 in Malawi, according to official figures.
Hundreds more were reported injured and missing, and nearly 1000 homes were destroyed in eastern Zimbabwe alone.
Doctors Without Borders said rivers had broken their banks and left houses fully submerged, with about 11,000 households displaced in Nsanje, in southern Malawi.
UN agencies and the Red Cross helped rush emergency food and medicine by helicopter to the stricken countries.
A central Mozambique resident said he heard a loud noise, like an explosion, and suddenly saw a river of mud rolling toward his home.
"I was indoors with my children, but when we looked we saw mud coming down the road towards the houses and we fled," Francisco Carlitos told Lusa, the Portuguese News Agency.
The family lost their home and possessions but safely reached higher ground.
The cyclone knocked out electricity, shut down the airport and cut off access to the city by road.
Jamie LeSueur, who led a Red Cross team that had to assess the damage by helicopter because of the flooded-out roads, said the impact was "massive and horrifying".
In 2000, Mozambique was hit by severe flooding caused by weeks of heavy rain, a disaster made much worse when a cyclone hit.
About 700 people were killed in what was regarded as the worst flooding in 50 years.
Air force personnel from Mozambique and South Africa were drafted in to fly rescue missions, while an NGO called Rescue South Africa said it had picked up 34 people since Friday night, using three helicopters.
"It is the only way to access the people that are stranded," Rescue SA's Abrie Senekal told AFP, saying the NGO was trying to hire more
Ian Scher, who heads Rescue SA, said the helicopter teams were having to make difficult decisions.
"Sometimes we can only save two out of five, sometimes we drop food and go to someone else who's in bigger danger," he said.
"We just save what we can save and the others will perish."
- with wires