By Charles Mangwiro
Maputo - A powerful tropical cyclone with winds of up to 230km per hour surged ashore in southern Mozambique on Thursday, uprooting trees, knocking over electric pylons and raising fears of new floods.
Cyclone Favio, the strongest to hit the southern African country, is heading towards the Zambezi River valley where it is likely to worsen floods which have already killed about 40 people and driven 120 000 from their homes.
Now rated a category four storm, Cyclone Favio hit the tourist town of Vilankulo early on Thursday, destroying a number of houses built of flimsy material, officials said.
The National Meteorology Institute, INAM, said Favio's strong winds and rains were concentrated in the province of Inhambane but were felt as far away as Xai-Xai, the capital of nearby Gaza province.
"The cyclone is now over land, hitting the tourist town of Vilankulo, and is likely to worsen in the next few hours," said INAM spokesperson Helder Sueia.
"It's magnitude is stronger than that of the Cyclone Eline, the worst to hit Mozambique in 2000."
The cyclone has caused widespread damage at the holiday resort of Tofo Beach, uprooting palm trees and destroying electric pylons around the area which has become a favourite of backpackers and scuba divers, Radio Mozambique said.
Sueia said the storm was moving northwards at an average speed of 50km per hour, taking aim at the central Zambezi River valley which is already struggling with a serious flood disaster.
"It's moving so fast and by Friday it will strike the central port city of Beira as it heads towards the already flood stricken region in Caia," Sueia said.
"It's accompanied by torrential rains which may worsen the flooding situation along the Zambezi valley."
Mozambique's cyclone early warning system said a storm of Favio's magnitude could bring widespread destruction of homes, buildings and industrial structures including power grids, as well as crops and trees.
Flooding in central Mozambique has already displaced more than 120 000 people, with tens of thousands of them in temporary shelters which officials are already having difficulty keeping supplied with food and fresh water.
"Our disaster management team is currently busy responding to the floods," Mozambique Red Cross General Secretary Fernanda Teixeira told national television this week.
"It will be a sad scenario for the people ... to be hit by a cyclone at a time when they are healing from the recent flooding," Teixeira said.
Officials said the problems could multiply in the coming days as Favio dumps its rains in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, further swelling tributaries which feed the already-flooded Zambezi.
Mozambique's worst disaster in recent memory occurred in 2000-2001 when a series of cyclones compounded widespread flooding in southern and central parts of the country, killing 700 people and driving close to half a million from their homes.