UPDATE: Cyclone Idai May Be ‘One of the Worst’ Disasters in the Southern Hemisphere

Officials with global aid groups and in Mozambique, where the storm hit hardest, are only beginning to reckon with its destruction. Potentially 1.7 million people were in the direct path of the cyclone, the United Nations estimated on Tuesday, and rain is forecast to continue in parts of the region for several days.

Cyclone Idai, the storm that has killed hundreds of people, submerged homes and battered cities in southeastern Africa, may prove to be one of the worst weather-related disasters ever in the Southern Hemisphere, a United Nations official said on Tuesday.

Herve Verhoosel, a spokesman for the United Nations World Food Program, said in an interview that the agency’s workers had described seeing “water and water for miles and miles” – flooding so severe it resembled an inland ocean where homes and towns had stood.

The situation remained dire, he said, for potentially hundreds of thousands of people in need of food, clean water and evacuation.

What happened

Cyclone Idai made landfall last Thursday into Friday on the coast of Southeast Africa, striking Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. (Like hurricanes and typhoons, a cyclone is a low-pressure circular storm system with winds greater than 74 miles per hour, each termed according to where it forms.)

In addition to the 1.7 million people potentially affected in Mozambique, the World Food Program estimated that 920,000 people were affected in Malawi and 15,000 in Zimbabwe.

Because of the flooding, most roads and bridges are closed, and many regions have no power – shutting down communications and airports that could be used to bring in supplies and evacuate people. Mr. Verhoosel said that people were stranded on rooftops and climbing into trees to escape the water, and were without food, safe water or medicine.

President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique said in a televised statement on Tuesday that the cyclone had killed more than 200 people, Reuters reported. In Zimbabwe, state news media reported that more than 100 people had died.

Earlier Mr. Nyusi had reportedly said he feared as many as 1,000 people could be found dead. Mr. Verhoosel said the death toll was expected to climb into the hundreds.

“If these reports, these fears, are realized, then we can say that this is one of the worst weather-related disasters – tropical cyclone-related disasters…Pin the Southern Hemisphere,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization, citing the president’s figure.


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