CHIMANIMANI, Zimbabwe (AP) — Reports from the United Nations and African governments say Cyclone Idai’s death toll has risen to over 550 people.
A U.N. official says Cyclone Idai has killed 242 people in Mozambique and 56 people in Malawi, according to government reports. Another 259 deaths have been cited in Zimbabwe from the country’s defense minister.
Gemma Connell, head of the U.N. humanitarian office for southern and eastern Africa, said Thursday from Mozambique’s capital of Maputo that those figures are expected to rise, especially in Mozambique, where many areas remain inundated.
Connell visited the Mozambique city of Beira on Wednesday and flew over affected areas including the town of Buzi, which was under water for several days after the cyclone hit March 14. She says there is still the threat of secondary floods.
She said Cyclone Idai has created “a hugely complex situation” that requires “an even more complex response.” She urged nations to donate as much as possible to help those left hungry and homeless.
Zimbabwe’s president has declared two days of mourning starting Saturday for the untold number of victims from Cyclone Idai.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said he witnessed “unmitigated despair” during his tour of the area, including the destruction of police stations.
At least 200 people have died in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony in southeast Africa, and more in neighboring Zimbabwe, as a result of the cyclone, which hit March 14 and brought widespread flooding.
Zimbabwe’s defense minister says Thursday that the cyclone killed at least 259 people in Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa says both prison guards and prisoners were washed away to their deaths as the storm slammed into government buildings.
Zimbabwe’s defense minister says more than 120 bodies were washed into neighboring Mozambique by flooding caused by Cyclone Idai, bringing the death toll in Zimbabwe to at least 259. A health worker involved in rescue operations says bodies are still being recovered.
Minister Oppah Muchinguri was speaking in the eastern city of Mutare, where truckloads of food, medicines and other emergency items were donated by churches, individuals and private firms.
“Most of the bodies were washed into Mozambique and because they were in a really bad state … they ended up burying them,” said Muchinguri. She said “a sizeable number” of people have not been accounted for.
On Thursday, helicopters brought some of the critically injured people to Mutare for help.
Mark Smythe, the operations director of a private medical firm providing a helicopter and medical personnel to assist in rescue operations, said many people are in danger from snakes that were displaced by the cyclone.
Other issues have included traumatic broken bones and women in labor who could not reach hospitals due to blocked roads.
“They are still finding dead bodies in the river,” said Stephen Nyambuya, another medical rescue worker.
The Red Cross says it is sending emergency sanitation and water facilities to the hard-hit Mozambique port of Beira and is appealing for 10 million Swiss francs (dollars) to help 75,000 of the worst-affected people.
Jamie LeSueur, who heads operations in Mozambique for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said Thursday that the emergency sanitation and water units “will be crucial” in preventing the spread of waterborne disease.
Experts will arrive in Beira in the coming days, and sanitation facilities for up to 20,000 people and equipment to produce clean water for 15,000 people will arrive in the port city early next week, he said.
The IFRC and Mozambique Red Cross are also trying to address the massive needs for shelter.
Red Cross volunteers have already distributed emergency shelter kits — comprising tarpaulins and basic tools — to about 1,500 families and an additional consignment for 3,000 families is scheduled to arrive Friday, LeSueur said.
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