Cyclone Idai Causes Mass Devastation In Southern Africa’s ‘Worst Ever Disaster’

A girl is carried on a stretcher after being injured in the wake of Cyclone Idai on March 19, 2019 in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe
Tafadzwa Ufumeli / Getty Images

The United Nations said the destructive cyclone that ravaged some areas of southeastern Africa may be the worst ever disaster to hit the southern hemisphere.

Cyclone Idai caused mass devastation throughout Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe in the past few days, leaving an unprecedented trail of destruction that caused devastating floods, ruined crops, and killed and injured thousands of people. According to The Guardian, it is estimated that more than 2.6 million people could be affected across all three countries, with the coastal city of Beira, Mozambique, experiencing over a 90 percent destruction rate. Beira, which is home to about 500,000 people, was first hit by the cyclone on Friday and has now been described as an “island in the ocean” that is nearly totally cut off.

At the time of writing, the official death tolls are set at 200 in Mozambique, 98 in Zimbabwe, and 56 in Malawi. However, these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg as the real toll may only be known in the coming months as the African countries struggle to deal with the aftermath of the catastrophe. Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi has declared three days of national mourning on Tuesday and said the country’s government is to announce a national emergency.

Houses, roads, and telegraph poles have gone submerged, some residents were left clinging on to trees for their lives, while others are stranded on houses or “new islands” that have formed, without any access to food or water. While the Mozambican and South African military and other search and rescue organizations are working tirelessly to rescue people from the air, it is hard to send supplies and teams to the devastated region because roads and bridges have been completely destroyed.

“Sometimes we can only save two out of five; sometimes we rather drop food and go to someone else who’s in bigger danger. We just save what we can save and the others will perish,” Ian Scher, from Rescue SA, told AFP.

As reported by Africa News, at least 400,000 people were left without a home in central Mozambique alone, according to Red Cross data.

“This is the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s history,” said Jamie LeSueur, who is a part of the rescue team leading efforts in the city of Beira for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

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Pilot Rick Emenaker, who undertook a survey flight over the basin of the Buzi river, Mozambique, for Mission Aviation Fellowship, described the mission as “heartbreaking.”

“We flew over many miles of flooded land in the Buzi River basin. We saw many people stranded on rooftops surrounded by kilometers of water. It was difficult to comprehend and think about that probably many have perished,” Emenaker said.

Families and loved ones will have to wait for more details to emerge, now that mobile network Movitel has been restored and flights are slowly making their way in and out of the country.