60,000 evacuated from flooded central Mozambique

Soldiers and relief workers using helicopters and canoes have evacuated 60,000 people from the flooded Zambezi River Valley in central Mozambique, where more than 100,000 others are at risk.

More rains are forecast and floodgates that must be opened to save the wall of a massive hydroelectric dam will add to the dangers this week.

About 100 people have drowned or been electrocuted by fallen power lines and hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes in torrential rains that have swamped a large area of southern Africa from Angola in the west to Mozambique in the east with Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe in between.

Thousands of acres of crops have been destroyed. Bridges have collapsed and roads have been swept away.

The Zambezi, a floodplain river that crosses the continent and has three major dams, burst its banks weeks ago. Its swollen waters and those of its tributaries came together at Mozambique’s north-western Cahora Bassa hydroelectric dam.

Officials began discharging water from the overflowing dam, which covers more than 1,000 square miles, at a rate of up to 353,000 cubic feet a minute last week.

More floodgates must be opened this week to prevent the dam wall from bursting, authorities said. That will unleash walls of water that will bear down the Zambezi and sweep into the centre of the country.

The Mozambicans are co-ordinating with water authorities in Zambia, where dams and reservoirs are also near capacity.

The director of Mozambique’s National Disasters Management Office, Paola Zucula, said 60,000 people had been evacuated from the Zambezi Valley in the past three days.

He said he had ordered an airborne rescue to start yesterday, with two helicopters joining a flotilla of boats and canoes manned by police and relief workers.

Still, Zucula said, of 164,000 people affected by the floods nationwide, 104,400 were still at risk, trapped by rising waters.

The main road being used to transport emergency supplies has been cut off by the floods, he said, hampering efforts and forcing authorities to use a cargo helicopter to ferry relief aid.

Prime Minister Luisa Diogo has ordered the forcible removal of people in low-lying areas, amid reports that some peasant farmers were refusing to evacuate unless their cattle and goats also were rescued.

Diogo flew over the flooded area last week and said islands in the Zambezi River could be identified only by the peaks of roofs sticking out of the water. Rescuers had saved some victims found clinging to trees, according to provincial authorities. More than 46,000 homes had been washed away in Mozambique, officials said.

Diogo said this year’s floods could be worse than those of 2000-2001, which killed 800 people, but that they do not expect as many fatalities because relief workers and agencies were better prepared.

The UN World Food Programme launched an urgent appeal today for food and other aid for flood victims.

Mozambique is on “red alert,” one step down from declaring a national disaster. The country of 16 million people was impoverished by three decades of war that ended in 1992.

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