The devastating tropical cyclone Freddy, which devastated southern Africa during a rare second landfall, has killed at least 216 people in Malawi and Mozambique, and the death toll is set to rise.
Torrential rains that triggered flooding and mudslides killed 199 people in Malawi, authorities said on Tuesday. President Lazarus Chakwera declared a “state of disaster” in the southern region of the country and the now-destroyed commercial capital, Blantyre. According to Malawi’s Disaster Management Directorate, around 19,000 people in the south of the country have been displaced.
“Power and communications outages in many affected areas are hampering relief efforts,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary general. The hardest-hit regions remain off-limits, so the full extent of the damage is as yet unknown.
Reports from Mozambique’s disaster institute say that 17 people have died in the country and 1,900 homes have been destroyed in the coastal province of Zambezia. Tens of thousands of people are still hiding in shelters and accommodation centres.
Freddy will continue to hit central Mozambique and southern Malawi with extreme rainfall before returning to sea late Wednesday afternoon, the UN Meteorological Center on Reunion Island predicts.
Amnesty International, a human rights organization, called on the international community to mobilize resources and increase aid and rescue efforts in both countries. Relief efforts in the countries are strained and were already battling the cholera epidemic when Freddy struck.
“It is clear that the official death toll will rise in both Malawi and Mozambique, as will reports of damaged infrastructure,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “The affected countries must also be compensated for the loss and damage caused by the cyclone.”
Last November, nations agreed to pay compensation to countries affected by extreme weather conditions exacerbated by man-made climate change. Cyclones are wetter, more frequent and more intense as the planet heats up, scientists say.
“Mozambique and Malawi are among the countries least responsible for climate change, but they face the full force of storms, which are intensifying due to global warming, mainly caused by carbon dioxide emissions from the world’s richest countries,” added Chagutah.
Cyclone Freddy has been wreaking havoc in southern Africa since late February. Last month, it also hit the islands of Madagascar and Réunion as it crossed the ocean. The cyclone intensified a record seven times and has the highest accumulated cyclone energy on record, or ACE, which is a measure of the amount of energy released by a cyclone over time. Freddy recorded more energy in his lifetime than in the entirety of a typical US hurricane season.
Freddy first appeared near Australia in early February and is expected to be the longest-serving tropical cyclone on record. The UN weather agency convened a panel of experts to determine whether it broke the 31-day record set by Hurricane John in 1994.