The situation is a “major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour”, according to the World Food Programme.
The cyclone which ripped through Mozambique before hitting neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi has been described as “one of the worst weather-related disasters” in the southern hemisphere.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said the death toll could reach as high as 1,000, while the World Food Programme estimated at least 1.7m people were in the path of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique.
More than 200 people have been killed in Mozambique and 400,000 were left homeless.
In Zimbabwe, at least 98 people have died and a further 56 have been confirmed dead in Malawi, with scores missing in both countries.A spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organisation, Claire Nullis, said: “What we are seeing emerging from our informal networks and from the official databases is if the worst fears are realised… it is one of the worst weather-related disasters in the southern hemisphere.”
Rapidly rising floodwaters have created an “inland ocean” in Mozambique, after Cyclone Idai dropped huge amounts of rain in Zimbabwe’s eastern mountains.Huge expanses of the country are flooded and continuing rain is causing waters to rise, putting thousands of families in danger and forcing many to flee to rooftops and treetops.
“This is a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour,” said Herve Verhoosel of the World Food Programme, the UN food agency.
He said that large numbers of people are “crammed on rooftops and elevated patches of land” and aid workers are scrambling to rescue as many as possible and providing air drops of food, water and blankets.”People visible from the air may be the lucky ones, and the top priority now is to rescue as many as possible and ferry them to safety,”.
A spokesperson for the Red Cross, Caroline Haga, said the situation was “dire” and added satellite images were being used to help rescue teams target the worst affected areas.The full extent of the damage is not yet known as many areas are impassible, with key roads and bridges washed away.
The hardest hit region is Mozambique’s Beira port, where thousands of homes have been destroyed, communication lines are down and there is currently no power.