Only 84 deaths were so far confirmed in Mozambique as a result of Cyclone Idai, which also left a trail of death and destruction across Zimbabwe and Malawi, with vast areas of land flooded, roads destroyed and communication wiped out.
Speaking on Radio Mozambique, President Filipe Nyusi said he had flown over the affected region, where two rivers had overflowed. Villages had disappeared, he said, and bodies were floating in the water. “Everything indicates that we can register more than 1000 deaths,” he said.
The cyclone had also killed 89 people in Zimbabwe, an official said yesterday, while the death toll in Malawi stood at 56.
Caroline Haga, a senior International Federation of the Red Cross official who is in Beira, said the situation could be far worse in the surrounding areas, which remained completely cut off by road and where houses were not as sturdy. Nyusi flew over areas that were otherwise accessible, and some of which had been hit by flooding before Cyclone Idai.
In Beira, Mozambique’s fourth-largest city and home to 500 000 people, a large dam had burst, further complicating rescue efforts. Large swathes of land were completely submerged, and in some streets people waded through knee-high water.
In the early hours yesterday, rescuers launched dinghies onto chest-high waters, navigating through reeds and trees, where people perched on branches to escape the water, to rescue those trapped by the flooding.
Rescuers struggled to reach people in Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani district cut off from the rest of the country by torrential rains and winds of up to 170km/* that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.
Zimbabwean Information Ministry official Nick Mangwana put the number of confirmed deaths at 89. The body count was expected to rise.
Many people had been sleeping in the mountains from Friday after their homes were flattened.
Zimbabwe has declared a state of disaster in areas affected by the storm.