Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi says that more than 1,000 may have been killed by Cyclone Idai, which many say is the worst in more than 20 years.
Speaking to state Radio Mozambique, Nyusi said Monday that although the official death count is currently 84, he believes the toll will be more than 1,000.
“It appears that we can register more than 1,000 deaths,” said the president, adding that more than 100,000 people are at risk.
“The waters of the Pungue and Buzi rivers overflowed, making whole villages disappear and isolating communities, and bodies are floating,” said Nyusi. “It is a real disaster of great proportions.”
Nyusi spoke after flying by helicopter over the central port city of Beira and the rural Manica and Sofala provinces in which he saw widespread flooding and devastation.
Other officials in emergency services cautioned that while they expect the death toll to rise significantly, they have no way of knowing if it will reach the president’s estimate of 1,000.
The Red Cross said that 90 percent of Beira, a city of 500,000, had been damaged or destroyed.
Beira has been severely battered by the cyclone which cut off electricity, forced the airport to shut down and cut off road access to the rest of the country. Cyclone Idai first hit Beira last week and then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Beira has been severely battered by the cyclone which cut off electricity, forced the airport to shut down and closed road access to the city, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on Monday.
Cyclone Idai first hit Beira last week and then moved inland spreading heavy winds and rainfall to Zimbabwe and Malawi. More than 215 people have been killed by the storm according to official figures in the three countries, hundreds more are missing, and more than 1.5 million people have been affected, according to the Red Cross and government officials.
The scale of the damage to Beira is “massive and horrifying,” said Jamie LeSueur, who led a Red Cross aerial assessment of the city. The team had to view the city by helicopter because roads were flooded, he said.
“The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous. It seems that 90 percent of the area is completely destroyed,” said LeSueur.
With Beira’s airport closed, the team drove from Mozambique’s capital Maputo before taking a helicopter for the last part of the journey because roads into Beira have been flooded.
While the physical impact of Idai is beginning to emerge, the human impact is unclear.
“Almost everything is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible,” said LeSueur.
“Beira has been severely battered. But we are also hearing that the situation outside the city could be even worse. Yesterday (Sunday), a large dam burst and cut off the last road to the city.”
The storm hit Beira late Thursday and moved westward into Zimbabwe and Malawi, affecting thousands more, particularly in areas bordering Mozambique.
At least 126 people had died in Mozambique and Malawi, according to the Red Cross. In Zimbabwe, 89 people have died from the floods, the country’s information ministry said Monday.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa both returned from foreign trips to attend to the emergencies caused by the storm.
Zimbabwe’s president returned home from the United Arab Emirates “to make sure he is involved directly with the national response by way of relief to victims of Cyclone Idai,” the information ministry said. The Zimbabwean government declared a state of national disaster.
U.N. agencies and the Red Cross are helping with rescue efforts that include delivering food supplies and medicines by helicopter in the impoverished countries.