HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi have been hit by a vicious cyclone that has killed more than 140 people, left hundreds more missing and stranded tens of thousands who are cut off from roads and telephones in mainly poor, rural areas.
Cyclone Idai has affected more than 1.5 million people in the three southern African countries, according to the U.N. and government officials.
Hardest hit is Mozambique’s central port city of Beira where the airport is closed, electricity is out and many homes have been destroyed. The storm hit Beira late Thursday and moved westward into Zimbabwe and Malawi, affecting thousands more, particularly in eastern areas bordering Mozambique.
Homes, schools, businesses, hospitals and police stations have been destroyed by the cyclone. Thousands were marooned by the heavy flooding and, only caring for the lives, abandoned their possessions to seek safety on higher ground.
U.N. agencies and the Red Cross are helping with rescue efforts that include delivering food supplies and medicines by helicopter in the impoverished southern African countries.
The number “is constantly changing” World Food Program spokesman Herve Verhoosel was quoted by U.N. News as saying.
Mozambique’s President Filipe said the damage is “very worrisome” and said that the flooding made it difficult for aircraft to land and carry out rescue operations, according to Mozambique’s state radio.
Zimbabwe government spokesman Nick Mangwana said Saturday that 24 people have died from the floods so far in Zimbabwe. The deaths are mainly in Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani, a mountainous area along the eastern border with Mozambique that is popular with tourists. No tourist deaths were recorded, he said.
The dead included two school students who were among dozens of children trapped in a dormitory after rocks fell from a nearby mountain, said Mangwana.
Roads and bridges were swept away, slowing rescue efforts by the military, government agencies and non-governmental organizations, he said.
Zimbabwe state television station, ZBC, reported that 150 people are missing.
South Africa’s military has sent in aircraft and 10 medical personnel to help in Mozambique and Malawi, it said in a statement Saturday.