Malawi Cyclone Devastation: 200 Dead and Survivors Struggling
The death toll from Cyclone Freddy, which battered Malawi in a second blow, approached 200 on Tuesday as survivors clung to waning hopes of finding missing relatives.
At least 190 people have died in the impoverished country since Freddie struck South Africa over the weekend, just weeks after he suffered a fatal blow in late February, according to a provisional tally.
Many died in mudslides that swept away temporary homes in the country’s commercial capital, Blantyre.
Desperation settled in Chiluboy, a town on the outskirts of the city with about half of the victims.
Drenched in the rain that had been falling for days, the survivors shrieked in disbelief, looking at the flattened homes and buildings.
Many believed there were still people trapped under the muddy rubble of earthen bricks – but no rescuers were in sight.
John Whitman, in his 80s, in a raincoat and woolen hat, stood with his 10 family members in front of his brother-in-law’s house. There were only rocks and flowing water, because the house had been swept away.
“I hope we find him and find closure. We feel helpless because there is no one here to help us – we don’t know what to do,” he told AFP.
In Chimkwankhunda, an area a few kilometers away, Steve Panganani Matera, wearing a green high-visibility jacket, pointed to a mound of mud.
“There used to be a lot of houses, but they’re gone,” Matera said.
“There are a lot of dead bodies out there in the mud, a lot of dead bodies.”
Cyclone Freddy reached landlocked Malawi early Monday morning after ravaging Mozambique over the weekend.
The United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Friday that last week the storm broke an unofficial standard as the longest-lasting tropical cyclone ever.
The confirmed record belongs to a 31-day stormtrooper in 1994 by the name of John.
Freddy moved away from the northern coast of Australia weeks ago, and became a designated storm on February 6.
It crossed the entire southern Indian Ocean and made landfall in Madagascar on February 21, and crossed the island before reaching Mozambique on February 24, claiming nearly two dozen lives in both countries and affecting nearly 400,000 people.
Then it headed back to the Indian Ocean, refueling with the warmth of its waters, and returned with an even stronger force for the weekend.
Meteorologists say hurricanes that track the entire Indian Ocean are extremely rare—most recently in 2000—and Freddy’s recall is even more extraordinary.
“It’s very rare for these cyclones to feed on themselves over and over again,” said climate change expert and Professor Colin Vogel at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
“People don’t expect them to come back once they really hit.”
“Climate change is starting to show effects on these systems,” Vogel said, adding however that more research is needed to explain this with greater certainty.
According to the United Nations, more than 11,000 people were affected by the storm in Malawi
The hurricane piled more problems on a country grappling with the deadliest cholera outbreak in its history, which has killed more than 1,600 people since last year.
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