BY FARAI MUTSAKA
CHIPINGE, ZIMBABWE (AP) — Mozambique on Wednesday began three days of national mourning for more than 200 victims of Cyclone Idai, while the death toll rose over 100 in neighboring Zimbabwe from one of the most destructive storms to strike southern Africa in decades.
Torrential rains are expected to continue into Thursday and floodwaters are still rising, according to aid groups trying to get food, shelter and clothing to desperate survivors. It will be days before Mozambique’s inundated plains drain toward the Indian Ocean.
People have been reported clinging to rooftops and trees since the cyclone roared in over the weekend. The United Nations humanitarian office said the town of Buzi, with about 200,000 people, was at risk of becoming at least partially submerged.
“Floodwaters are predicted to rise significantly in the coming days and 350,000 people are at risk,” the U.N. office said.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa received a somber welcome in the hard-hit mountain community of Chimanimani near the border with Mozambique. Zimbabwean officials have said about 350 people may have died.
Some bodies from Zimbabwe have been swept down the mountainside 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,’” said July Moyo, the minister of local government.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said late Tuesday that more than 200 people were confirmed dead there. After flying over the affected region on Monday, he said he expected more than 1,000 deaths.
Aid workers were shocked as they arrived in the Mozambique port city of Beira, estimated to be 90 percent destroyed. The 500,000 residents of the city, which has some neighborhoods that are below sea level, are scrambling for food, fuel and medicine.
“The power of the cyclone is visible everywhere with shipping containers moved like little Lego blocks,” said Marc Nosbach, Mozambique director for the aid group CARE.
International aid has started trickling in.
“Everyone is doubling, tripling, quadrupling whatever they were planning” in terms of aid, said Caroline Haga of the Red Cross in Beira. “It’s much larger than anyone could ever anticipate.”
The United Arab Emirates will provide 18.3 million dirhams ($4.9 million) to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, the Emirates News Agency reported, citing the Emirates Red Crescent.
Zimbabwe’s president said a planeload of aid from the UAE was expected to arrive in the capital, Harare, later Wednesday.
The chairman of the African Union Commission said it would provide $350,000 in immediate support to the countries.
The European Union has released 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) in emergency aid, and Britain pledged up to 6 million pounds ($7.9 million). Tanzania’s military has sent 238 tons of food and medicine, and three Indian naval ships have been diverted to Beira to help with evacuations and other efforts.
Sacha Myers of the nonprofit Save the Children described overflowing rivers and dams, and said getting in aid was difficult, with roads and bridges washed away or submerged in the region.
Hunger and illness are growing concerns, with crops destroyed and waterborne diseases likely to spread.
“There are large areas where people are really finding it difficult to find sources of clean water,” said Gert Verdonck, the emergency coordinator with Doctors Without Borders in Beira. He added: “On top of all of that, there’s the issue of how to treat people who fall sick_with so many health centers damaged or destroyed.”
Associated Press writers Andrew Meldrum and Cara Anna in Johannesburg and Matt Sedensky in New York contributed.
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