Cyclone Freddy kills 190 people in Malawi as rain complicates rescue efforts

BLANTYRE, March 14 (Reuters) – Cyclone Freddy, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, has killed 190 people in Malawi after it swept through southern Africa for the second time in a month, the Malawi government said on Tuesday .

The district around Blantyre’s commercial center was one of the hardest hit areas. Severe flooding and rain have damaged roads and bridges, hampering relief operations.

Freddy also left a trail of destruction in Mozambique, where it made landfall last weekend. More than 22,000 people were there seeking shelter away from their homes.

The latest death toll in Malawi is a jump from the 99 reported Monday, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs said.

As heavy rains continued to batter the country, 584 people were injured and 37 are still missing, it said in a statement.

Grief-stricken families were seen waiting to collect the dead bodies of relatives from the mortuary at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.

Mudslides caused by heavy rainfall have made it difficult to provide aid to those affected, aid agencies said.

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“It’s a challenging operation in the sense that there have been mudslide incidents and so people get stuck in those mud piles,” said Estere Tsoka, emergency response specialist with UN children’s organization UNICEF in Malawi.

“People have been trying to find a place there for a while.”

Freddy stormed central Mozambique on Saturday, tearing roofs off buildings and causing widespread flooding around the port of Quelimane before moving inland towards Malawi.

The full extent of the damage and loss of life in Mozambique is still becoming apparent, but the total 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 Mozambique’s humanitarian organization ForAfrika, told Reuters Sofala and Zambezia provinces have been badly hit by the latest hit. He said as of Monday, 22,000 people or 4,000 families were seeking shelter in Zambezia province in shelters.

“We expect (those) numbers to increase because there are inaccessible areas due to the floods. Some vehicles cannot get through the roads,” said Benjaminim.

Freddy could cross Zambezia province again, with more wind and rain. “We’ll know tomorrow morning if it’s more intense or not,” Benjaminim added.

Reporting by Frank Phiri at Blantyre; Additional reporting by Carien du Plessis in Johannesburg; Written by Bhargav Acharya and Alexander Winning; Edited by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Angus MacSwan

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