Cyclone Freddy, with its exceptional longevity, killed more than 400 people in southern Africa, the vast majority of them in Malawi, where the toll worsened further on Thursday evening, the hope of finding survivors becoming increasingly slim.
Freddy struck twice in a few weeks in the region, killing 73 people in its path in Mozambique, 17 in Madagascar and now 326 in Malawi, according to a latest national report announced in the evening by the president of this landlocked country, among the most the world’s poor.
“Since yesterday (Wednesday), the death toll from this disaster has risen from 225 to 326 dead, the number of displaced people has more than doubled” exceeding 183,000 in Malawi, said Lazarus Chakwera, traveling to Blantyre (south), economic capital and epicenter of bad weather.
Malawi hit hard
Formed in early February off Australia, the cyclone on the verge of being classified as the longest on record made an unprecedented crossing of more than 8,000 km from east to west in the Indian Ocean.
It made landfall for the first time on February 21 on the east coast of Madagascar, killing 7 people. The phenomenon, which has been raging for more than thirty-five days, then hit Mozambique, killing 10 people. It then turned back in early March and hit Madagascar a second time, killing 10 more people there. He also returned to Mozambique, where he still caused 63 deaths.
But it was in Malawi, which had so far only experienced an increase in rainfall levels and where the cyclone finally hit on Monday, that Freddy wreaked the most havoc. Weakened but with gusts still reaching 200 km / h on its return, the phenomenon carried torrential rains which led to heavy flooding and landslides. The densely populated region of Blantyre is devastated. A state of disaster and two weeks of national mourning have been declared. The police and the army were deployed.
Buried in the mud
On Thursday, neighbors and rescue workers continued to search the mud in the hope of finding survivors. But rescue operations more and more often result in a macabre collection of decomposing bodies.
In the township of Manje, near Blantyre, residents called for help. Hundreds of bodies are buried there, in the mud, they assure AFP. The putrid smell and the air bubbles rising to the surface from the waterlogged ground leave little doubt. In front of a house in poor condition and covered with earth, a dozen inhabitants and five soldiers begin to dig and extract a first body, that of a man. “I hope they find other bodies so they can be buried and rest in peace,” said Rose Phiri, an elderly woman from the area.
In the midst of the desolation, hope sometimes arises: the day before, help had miraculously saved a child. Promise, 13, had been trapped in the mud for three days in her collapsed house.
Call for help
President Chakwera reiterated his call for help on Thursday, saying “the needs are enormous”. The Head of State had called the day before for international aid to cope with the immense destruction, describing the disaster as a “national tragedy”.
In neighboring Mozambique, President Filipe Nyusi, who visited the most affected province, Zambezia (center), bordering Malawi on Wednesday, also called for an “emergency” mobilization of national and international aid to ” repair the destroyed infrastructure”. Tropical storms and cyclones appear several times a year in the southwest Indian Ocean during the hurricane season which lasts from November to April.