An unrelenting Cyclone Freddy that is currently battering southern Africa has killed at least 190 people in Malawi and Mozambique since it struck the continent for a second time on Saturday night, authorities in both countries have confirmed.
The commercial hub of Blantyre in Malawi was the hardest hit district and severe flooding and rains have broken roads and bridges, hampering relief operations.
The flooding and rains have hit rescue operations and made it difficult to get relief to those affected, aid agencies said.
“It’s a challenging operation in the sense that there have been incidents of mudslides, and so people are getting stuck in those mud accumulations,” said Estere Tsoka, emergency specialist at U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in Malawi.
“People are trying to find a place to hang in there for some time.”
Freddy pummeled central Mozambique on Saturday, ripping roofs off buildings and bringing widespread flooding around the port of Quelimane, before moving inland towards Malawi with torrential rains that caused landslides.
The deaths in Malawi include five members of a single family who died in Blantyre’s Ndirande township after Freddy’s destructive winds and heavy rains demolished their house, according to a police report. A 3-year-old child who was “trapped in the debris” is also among the victims, with her parents among those reported missing, authorities also said.
“We suspect that this figure will rise as we are trying to compile one national report from our southwest, southeast, and eastern police offices which cover the affected areas,” Malawi police spokesperson Peter Kalaya told The Associated Press.
The cyclone lashed over Mozambique and Malawi over the weekend and into Monday. It’s the second time the record-breaking cyclone – which has been causing destruction in southern Africa since late February – made landfall in mainland Africa. It also pummeled the island states of Madagascar and Réunion as it traversed across the ocean.
The cyclone has intensified a record seven times and has the highest-ever recorded accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, which is a measurement of how much energy a cyclone has released over time. Freddy recorded more energy over its lifetime than an entire typical U.S. hurricane season.
Freddy first developed near Australia in early February and traveled across the entire southern Indian Ocean. It’s set to be the longest-ever recorded tropical cyclone. The U.N.’s weather agency has convened an expert panel to determine whether it has broken the record set by Hurricane John in 1994 of 31 days.
Freddy made landfall in the seaport of Quelimane in Mozambique on Saturday where there are reports of damage to houses and farmlands, although the extent of the destruction is not yet clear. Telecommunications and other essential infrastructure are still cut off in much of the affected Zambezia province, impeding rescue and other humanitarian efforts.
The death toll in Malawi has jumped to 190 from 99 on Monday, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs said. As heavy rains continued to pummel the country, 584 people have been injured, and 37 are still missing, it said in a statement.
French weather agency Météo-France’s regional tropical cyclone monitoring center in Réunion warned Monday that “the heaviest rains will continue over the next 48 hours” as Freddy barrels on. Mozambique’s central provinces and Malawi have been identified as especially vulnerable to “floods and landslides in mountainous areas” by weather monitors.
Much of the damage experienced in Malawi is in homes built in areas prohibited by law such as in mountainous regions or near rivers where they are battling landslides, unprecedented flooding, and rivers bursting their banks. The cyclone has forced the Malawian government to suspend schools in 10 districts in its southern region “as a precautionary measure.”
Freddy is expected to weaken and to exit back to sea on Wednesday, according to Météo-France.
This story was reported by The Associated Press. Material from Reuters was used in this report. AP writers Alexandre Nhampossa and Tom Gould contributed to this report from Maputo, Mozambique. Wanjohi Kabukuru reported from Mombasa, Kenya.