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More than 220 killed by record-breaking Cyclone Freddy

The vast majority of deaths occurred in Malawi as a result of the highly unusual storm.

Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit the coast of southern Africa for a second time this weekend, bringing the total death toll to more than 220 people in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar.

The month-long storm has broken at least one record and could break two more, meteorologists say. As climate change causes warmer oceans, heat energy from the surface of the water fuels stronger storms.

Here’s what you need to know:

What happened to the victims?

On Tuesday afternoon, authorities counted 190 dead in Malawi and hundreds injured and missing. The official death toll in neighboring Mozambique stood at 20.

Many of the dead were killed by mudslides in hilly Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city. Torrential rain swept away thousands of homes and uprooted trees, leaving residents to stare in disbelief at huge ravines in the roads and scramble over makeshift bridges as the rain continued.

Bodies continued to be pulled from the devastation. The extent of damage and loss of life is still unknown as search and rescue operations continue.

Nearly 60,000 people have been affected, with about 19,000 displaced from their homes, according to the Malawi government.

Unusual path

Freddy developed off the coast of Australia, crossing the entire southern Indian Ocean and traveling more than 8,000 km (4,970 mi) to make landfall in Madagascar and Mozambique in late February.

It then looped back and reached the coast of Mozambique again two weeks later before moving inland to Malawi.

“No other tropical cyclone observed in this part of the world has traveled such a path across the Indian Ocean in the past two decades,” said the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Only four storms have crossed the southern Indian Ocean from east to west, the last in 2000.

Highest cyclone energy

Freddy holds the record for the most accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) — a measure based on a storm’s wind force over its lifetime — of any storm in the Southern Hemisphere and possibly worldwide.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Freddy has generated about as much cyclone energy as an average full North Atlantic hurricane season.

Last week, it ranked second for the most accumulated cyclone energy of any storm since 1980, holding the record held by Hurricane and Typhoon Ioke in 2006.

By some estimates, Freddy has since broken that record with 86 ACE compared to Ioke’s 85 ACE.

record length

According to the WMO, Freddy may have broken the record for the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record. The current record is held by a 31-day hurricane in 1994.

Freddy first developed on February 6 and made landfall on the coast of Mozambique for the second time on March 11, 34 days later.

However, weather experts still need to look at several factors — such as the fact that it weakened below tropical cyclone status at some points during that time — to determine whether the record has been broken, the WMO said.

Most cycles of intensification

Freddy appears to have broken the world record for most periods of rapid intensification, defined as an increase in wind speed of 80 km (35 mi) per hour in a 24-hour period.

According to satellite estimates, Freddy had seven separate cycles of rapid intensification. The previous record was four, which was set by several hurricanes.

The WMO will set up an expert committee to investigate this record and the others, it said.