Cyclone Freddy killed more than 100 people in Malawi and Mozambique on its return to southern Africa’s mainland. It tore through southern Africa at the weekend for the second time within a few weeks. In total, at least 136 people have so far been killed. This includes 99 in Malawi, 20 in Mozambique and 17 in Madagascar. Malawi bore the brunt, counting at least 99 deaths after mudslides overnight washed away houses and sleeping occupants.
“We expect the number to rise,” Charles Kalemba, a commissioner at the Department of Disaster Management Affairs. Another 134 people were injured, and 16 are reported missing. Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre recorded 85 deaths. According to the UN, more than 11,000 people were affected by the storm.
The UN’s World Meteorological Organization has stated that Freddy is set to become the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record. It formed off north-western Australia in the first week of February. Then, it crossed the entire southern Indian Ocean and hit Madagascar from 21 February before first reaching Mozambique on 24 February.
Following what meteorologists describe as a ‘rare’ loop trajectory, Freddy then headed back towards Madagascar before moving once more towards Mozambique. There, at least 10 other people died and 14 were wounded. The Mozambique National Institute for Disaster Management said the fallout from the storm’s second landfall in the country was worse than expected.
Meteorologists say that cyclones that track across the entire Indian Ocean are very infrequent. The last such occurrences were in 2000 – and Freddy’s loopback is even more exceptional.
Professor Coleen Vogel, climate change expert at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, said:
It’s a very rare thing that these cyclones feed themselves over and over again.
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People aren’t expecting them to come back again once they’ve hit already.
Vogel added that climate change is “starting to show impacts over these systems”. However, more research was needed to say this with greater certainty.
President Lazarus Chakwera declared a “state of disaster in the Southern region” of the nation. The government was responding to the crisis while appealing for local and international aid for affected families, his office said.
Malawi has ordered schools in ten southern districts to remain closed until 15 March. Rains and winds are expected to keep battering the nation’s south.
National carrier Malawi Airlines said all flights to Blantyre have been cancelled until further notice. An inbound plane ran into the bad weather and was forced back to the capital, Lilongwe.
The country’s energy utility also warned that electricity generation would be unstable. This is because it would have to temporarily shut down hydropower stations to prevent muddy water from damaging turbines.
Compounding the situation
The impact of the cyclone has piled more woes on Malawi, which is grappling with the deadliest cholera outbreak in its history. The disease has killed over 1,600 people since last year. Worse still, UN children’s agency UNICEF warned that:
Severe weather events such as these are likely to exacerbate the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera.
Guilherme Botelho, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency project coordinator in Blantyre, states that:
We have moved the cholera treatment centres close by to the hospital to ensure the safety of the patients… The rain hasn’t stopped yet and there is a lot of damage, which really worries us on many levels.
Indeed, another rise in cholera cases is one of our concerns in the aftermath of this storm, especially since the vaccine coverage in Blantyre is very poor.
He went on:
The situation is very dire. There are many casualties, either wounded, missing or dead, and the numbers will only increase in the coming days.
The Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre is overwhelmed with the influx of casualties coming from different areas, so we have put together a team of nurses and clinical officers to provide medical and logistic support. We are also donating medical supplies and will assess if food needs to be provided to patients.
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse
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