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Cyclone Freddy death toll in Malawi, Mozambique passes 100

More than 100 people have died in Malawi and Mozambique after Cyclone Freddy, bringing strong winds and torrential rain, returned to mainland Southern Africa.

Freddy stormed through South Africa for the second time in a few weeks over the weekend, making a comeback after his first hit in late February.

Malawi was hit hard, with at least 99 dead after mudslides washed away homes and sleeping residents overnight.

Another 134 people were injured and 16 are reported missing. At least 85 people have died in Malawi’s commercial capital, Blantyre.

“We expect the number to rise,” Charles Kalemba, a commissioner in the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, told a news conference Monday.

At least 10 people were killed and 14 injured in neighboring Mozambique.

The Mozambique National Institute for Disaster Management said the effects of the storm’s second landfall in the country were worse than expected.

Forming off the coast of northwestern Australia in the first week of February, Freddy was set to become the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record, according to the UN World Meteorological Organization. It crossed the entire southern Indian Ocean, destroying Madagascar from February 21 before reaching Mozambique on February 24.

Freddy followed what meteorologists describe as a “rare” loop track, then headed back to Madagascar before heading back to Mozambique.

The last cyclones to cross the entire southern Indian Ocean were Leon-Eline and Hudah in 2000.

More than 11,000 people have been affected by the storm, according to the UN.

The impact of the cyclone has added further misery to Malawi, a country struggling with the deadliest cholera outbreak in its history, which has killed more than 1,600 people since last year.

President Lazarus Chakwera declared a “state of disaster in the southern region” of the nation. The government responded to the crisis while appealing for local and international aid for affected families, his office said.

Schools in 10 southern districts will remain closed until Wednesday, with rain and wind expected to continue to batter the south of the country.

Men dig for survivors and victims in the mud and debris left behind by Cyclone Freddy in Chilobwe, Blantyre, Malawi (Eldson Chagara/Reuters)

National carrier Malawi Airlines said all flights to Blantyre have been canceled until further notice after an incoming plane was distressed by the bad weather and forced to return to the capital, Lilongwe.

The country’s power company also warned that electricity generation would be unstable as it would have to temporarily shut down hydroelectric plants to prevent muddy water from damaging turbines.

Armed with shovels or simply with their bare hands, residents of Chilobwe, a township in southern Malawi, were digging through the mud, hoping to find survivors as the torrential rain from Cyclone Freddy poured down their backs.

Government rescuers arrived too late, said a resident who declined to give his name, covered in mud as he helped with the rescue.

“People are overwhelmed. The situation is very difficult,” said ambulance driver Honest Chirwa, adding that the rescuers did not have enough equipment.

The impoverished township was hit hard by the powerful storm, which brought flooding and mudslides that swept away homes and buried their inhabitants.

Branches of trees sway as Cyclone Freddy hits, in Quelimane, Zambezia, Mozambique
Tree branches sway as Cyclone Freddy hits Mozambique (UNICEF Mozambique/2023/Alfredo Zuniga/Handout via Reuters)

Many of the Malawi deaths occurred in Chilobwe, a hilltop settlement near Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city.

“There was a huge mudslide that swept away several houses. It was bad,” says Donald Banda, a 16-year-old student. He is one of about 100 residents looking for their neighbours, dead or alive.

The mudslide hit overnight, destroying everything in its wake, Banda said, with several homes and their occupants disappearing almost immediately.

Most of the houses in the area are built with mud bricks, which makes them easily damaged in bad weather.

“We have no choice but to do all this alone,” said the man, who asked not to be named. “It’s frustrating because people are dying.”