Mozambique: Rescue, Relief Efforts Underway in Cyclone-Hit Southern Africa

People loot sacks of rice from a warehouse surrounded by flood waters from Cyclone Idai, in Beira, Mozambique, March 20, 2019.
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UNITED NATIONS — The Red Cross says it is deploying two major emergency response units to the port city of Beira in Mozambique to provide services for thousands of people affected by last week’s Cyclone Idai, one of the most destructive storms to hit southern Africa in decades.

One unit is expected to provide basic sanitation facilities for up to 20,000 people, while the other is expected to produce as much as 225,000 liters of clean water each day — enough to help 15,000 people struggling to survive the massive flooding that has followed the storm.

Jamie LeSueur, head of Red Cross operations in Mozambique, said in a statement that aid workers are most concerned about preventing the spread of waterborne disease. She said the emergency response deliveries will help protect against that.

“More help is needed, and we are continuing to do all we can to bring in more resources and reach more people,” she said.

Helicopters are conducting food drops over villages that were destroyed and cut off from the outside world after the cyclone hit Beira, then swept inland to neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi. Aid officials say an untold number of survivors are clinging to treetops or are trapped on rooftops of houses that remain submerged by floodwaters.

The combined death toll in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi has risen to at least 437 people, a number which is expected to climb as the flood waters recede and search crews finally enter the damaged areas.

The U.N. says the official death tolls from the governments are: Mozambique – 242, Zimbabwe – 139, and Malawi – 56.

President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique has said he expects the death toll to exceed 1,000 in his nation alone. Mozambique began three days of official mourning Wednesday.

Aid agencies said they were prepared for the cyclone but not the massive floods that followed. Mozambique was hardest hit as a result of rivers flowing downstream from its neighbors.

The U.N. World Food Program said it was transporting enough aid for 600,000 people across the three nations. The U.N. said it has allocated $20 million from its central emergency response fund and urged other donors to contribute.

Drone footage shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in the settlement of Praia Nova, which sits on the edge of Beira, Mozambique, March 18, 2019.

“Now that the flood waters are coming down, we are shifting to a different stage in the response,” said Gemma Connell, the Head of Office of the U.N.’s humanitarian regional office for Southern and Eastern Africa. “This stage is that we have to get the response that we can to everyone in need through a combination of air and on ground, but we have to do that cognizant of the restraints we face.” She said aid workers need fuel and other essentials to keep the response operation running smoothly.

The African Union has contributed $350,000 to the three storm-stricken countries. The European Union announced an initial aid package valued at nearly $4 million. Britain and the United Arab Emirates have also promised aid. The Indian Defense Forces have sent a medical team and South Africa’s Air Force has been assisting with search and rescue operations.

The U.S. State Department said the United States is supporting relief efforts “in coordination with our partners.”

Margaret Besheer