BLANTYRE: Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera on Wednesday appealed for international help to deal with the devastation of Cyclone Freddy, a “national tragedy” that has claimed at least 225 lives in the impoverished South African country.
The head of state declared two weeks of national mourning, with flags lowered for the first seven days. “This hurricane is the third in 13 months to hit our country,” he said in a televised speech. “Evidence of the realities of climate change.”
Earlier he traveled to Blantyre (south), the economic capital and epicenter of the disaster, and attended a party for the victims of the cyclone. “It’s a national tragedy,” he said, wearing a raincoat and rain boots.
“I appeal to international partners and donors to provide additional assistance in the face of the destruction and damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy,” he added.
Dozens of mourners attended the rally, which was held at a school in the town of Chilubuye, near Blantyre. Twenty-one coffins decorated with wreaths were lined up under a tent, sheltered from the soft, steady rain.
An emergency ministerial meeting authorized the release of 1.6 billion kwacha ($1.5 million) to help the affected population. “But I can already tell you that this money will not be enough,” Chaquira said in his speech.
“almost an island”
With exceptional longevity, Freddy had already struck South Africa at the end of February, killing 17 people, before turning back in the opposite direction at the beginning of March.
The cyclone caused heavy flooding and deadly landslides in Malawi, a landlocked country, where a state of disaster was declared. The police and army were deployed.
Dozens of people are still missing. President Chakwera pledged to “step up” the search.
More than 88,300 others are homeless. Schools and churches have been converted into emergency shelters. A total of 165 centers were opened. Dozens of health facilities have been damaged as a result of the destruction.
Felix Washon, a spokesman for the Malawi Red Cross Society, which is carrying out relief operations, said the devastation was “enormous”. Collapsed bridges and high water levels in some places also make rescue operations more difficult. Survivors are found on trees and rooftops.
In Chiluboy, mudslides destroyed frail brick and earth houses.
But life has already slowly resumed, and markets and businesses have reopened.
Almost two days ago, in this same slum, families and rescue workers were digging through the mud, sometimes with their bare hands, hoping to find their loved ones.
“There are dead people here, everywhere,” said Fadila Ngolumol, 19.
The non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is on the spot, fears a jump in cholera cases in the country already battling a deadly epidemic of the disease.
According to the latest forecasts, Freddy should dissipate above the ground, but the rains are likely to continue for several more days.
The cyclone also hit neighboring Mozambique on its second pass. A partial assessment remains that 21 people have been killed. In the coastal town of Quelimani (center), about 40 km from the hurricane’s landing site, the rain has not stopped since the end of the week.
Many homes were destroyed, roofs were ripped off, roads were cut off: “The city is a peninsula,” according to Thomas Bonnett of the NGO Friends in Global Health, instantly.
President Filipe Nyusi was expected in the region on Wednesday.
Freddy, who made an unprecedented crossing of more than 8,000 km from east to west in the Indian Ocean, has been raging for more than 35 days. It is on its way to being rated as the tallest tornado in history by meteorologists.
Tropical storms and cyclones appear several times a year in the southwestern Indian Ocean, during the cyclone season from November to April.