Latest: Foreign aid begins flowing into cyclone-hit southern Africa where over 350 confirmed dead

Latest: International aid has started trickling into the east African countries of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to ease the humanitarian crisis created by floodwaters from Cyclone Idai.

Relief efforts that were initially stifled by airport closures slowly gained pace, and foreign governments began pledging aid to help the region recover from the worst flooding in decades.

“Everyone is doubling, tripling, quadrupling whatever they were planning,” said Caroline Haga of the Red Cross in Beira, Mozambique, referring to supplies and aid workers.

“It’s much larger than anyone could ever anticipate.”

The European Union released €3.5 million in emergency aid, and the UK pledged up to £6 million. Neighbouring Tanzania’s military airlifted 238 tons of food and medicine.

Matthew Pickard of the humanitarian organisation Care said the response to Idai has been similar to previous natural disasters.

Local authorities and international non-governmental organisations worked their way to the area in the first days, with additional aid destined to arrive soon after.

The slow-moving catastrophe of the flooding and the inability to access some of the hardest-hit areas has limited the ability of some to see the scale of the cyclone, but aid will spike as the details become clearer, Mr Pickard said.

“Over the next few days we’ll learn just how big it is,” he said from Malawi. “These are countries that are not usually making headlines and they’re making headlines. With the story comes people’s intent to respond empathetically.”

Sacha Myers of Save the Children, speaking from Mozambique, described rising floodwaters, “rivers and dams bursting their banks” and a death toll in the hundreds and rising.

She was awaiting the arrival of a cargo plane carrying 51 tons of emergency supplies, but said getting them where they needed to go remained difficult with roads washed away or submerged and few options for storage in dry areas.

“We’re having an unfolding crisis that’s getting worse and worse,” she said.

The United Nations is deploying resources too, deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, but logistics remained challenging and the hardest hit areas remained inaccessible.

As better data emerges from the disaster zone, donors will be standing by to make money and other resources such as medicine available, said E Anne Peterson of the non-profit health organisation Americares.

“It’s early and a really big disaster gets attention fast, and the more media covers it, the more people realise there is a need and the more likely we are to see them getting engaged,” she said.

Ilan Noy, chairman in the economics of disasters at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, said aid was likely to flow from dozens of countries to the African nations.

How much is pledged and when, he said, correlates to the media coverage a disaster gets, not to mention factors such as the geostrategic interests and previous colonial ties of an affected country.

Ultimately, the figures that are announced can bear little meaning, with the numbers typically stand-ins for the value of salaries and supplies sent overseas.

“They don’t have enough helicopters or they don’t have enough doctors,” Mr Noy offered as an example. “In that emergency phase, it doesn’t really matter how you count it. You need resources. You don’t need cash.”

- Press Association

Cyclone’s huge floods leave more than 350 dead and hundreds missing in southern Africa

Update 6.20am: More than 350 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds more are missing after the cyclone that unleashed devastating floods in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Aid workers rushed to rescue victims clinging to trees and crammed on rooftops on Tuesday amid fears that many thousands of people are at risk.

In Mozambique, the rapidly rising floodwaters created “an inland ocean,” endangering tens of thousands of families, aid workers said as they scrambled to rescue survivors and airdrop, food, water and blankets to survivors of Cyclone Idai.

A family dig for their son who got buried in the mud when Cyclone Idai struck (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

“This is the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s recent history,” said Jamie LeSueur, head of response efforts for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The United Nations allocated 20 million (€17m) from its emergency response fund to ramp up the humanitarian response in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The European Union and Britain have also pledged aid, and the US Embassy in Zimbabwe said America was “mobilising to provide support” to partners in the three affected countries.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said that more than 200 people had been confirmed dead in his country. Earlier he said the death toll could reach 1,000.

At least 400,000 people have been left homeless.

A man stands on the edge of a collapsed bridge (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

In Zimbabwe’s eastern mountain areas bordering Mozambique, residents struggled to cope with the disaster.

“There was a house there, it was buried and the owners may have been buried with it. They are missing,” said Zacharia Chinyai of the Zimbabwean border town of Chimanimani, who lost 12 relatives in the disaster.

The cyclone took residents by surprise, Mr Chinyai said.

“We heard news on the radio” about the flooding in neighbouring Mozambique, he said. “But we never thought we could also be victims… No-one told us it was going to be this devastating.”

I wasn't able to save anything except this baby

Chipo Dhliwayo lost her daughters, four-year-old Anita and eight-year-old Amanda.

“I wasn’t able to save anything except this baby,” she said of her lone surviving child, a six-month-old son, who suffered an eye injury and scars to his face.

The family was sleeping when their house collapsed, the 30-year-old said.

“Trees, rocks and mud were raining on us. I grabbed my son, my husband took Anita and we ran to a hut, but that also collapsed. Anita died there,” she said.

Amanda was trapped in the rubble of their house and her body was not found until the next day.

“I knew she was already dead. I cried the whole night,” Ms Dhliwayo said. “I lost so much that I wish I had just died.”

The cyclone created southern Africa’s most destructive flooding in 20 years, said emergency workers. Heavy rains were expected to continue through Thursday.

Mozambique’s Pungue and Buzi rivers overflowed, creating “inland oceans extending for miles and miles in all directions,” said Herve Verhoosel of the World Food Programme (WFP).

“This is a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour,” Mr Verhoosel said.

He said people were “crammed on rooftops and elevated patches of land.”

“People visible from the air may be the lucky ones and the top priority now is to rescue as many as possible,” he said.

“The full horror, the full impact is only going to emerge over coming days,” Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane told reporters in Geneva.

In Zimbabwe the death toll was 98 but expected to rise, a local government minister, July Moyo, said.

He said bodies of Zimbabweans had been reported floating all the way into Mozambique. “Some of the peasants in Mozambique were calling some of our people to say: ‘We see bodies, we believe those bodies are coming from Zimbabwe’,” Mr Moyo said.

- Press Association

KEYWORDS:

Mozambique

Most Read in World