Cyclone Freddy, "out of the ordinary" because it made a loop rarely observed by meteorologists, has killed more than 100 people in Malawi and Mozambique returning to hit southern Africa, according to new assessments from authorities and NGOs on Monday.

At least 99 people have died in Malawi, the disaster management agency said, saying it expects an even higher toll. A previous assessment provided by the Red Cross Society in Malawi and the authorities reported at least 66 deaths in Malawi and 4 in Mozambique.

"Unprecedented" loop

Malawi has declared a state of disaster in several parts of the country's south, including the economic capital Blantyre, the presidency announced Monday. Head of State Lazarus Chakwera "noted with great concern the devastation that Cyclone Freddy is currently causing in many districts (...) and declared a state of disaster" in the south, she said in a statement.

On track to be ranked the longest cyclone ever recorded by meteorologists, Freddy had already hit Madagascar and Mozambique at the end of February. The death toll was 17, thousands displaced and homes ravaged.

Returning to the region last week following an unprecedented loop trajectory, it first hit Madagascar for the second time in two weeks, killing 10 people. Then he came back to hit Mozambique on Saturday night. At least four people died in the central province of Zambezia, which is open to the Mozambique Channel, local authorities told AFP. But the death toll is likely to rise, as information is difficult to reach due to communications cut.

Isolated towns

The port city of Quelimane (center), about forty km from where the cyclone landed, is still largely isolated from the rest of the world: roads, water, electricity are cut in places, according to Guy Taylor, spokesman for UNICEF on the ground reached by phone.

Many people are missing, according to authorities. And the disaster seems to have exceeded fears: "Emergency shelters have been overwhelmed because the number of people affected has been higher than expected," Luisa Meque, president of the national disaster management office, told AFP.


The cyclone, which was accompanied by strong winds and torrential rains, then moved overnight from Sunday to Monday towards neighboring Malawi, causing flooding and large mudslides. Schools in the world's poorest country have been closed in much of the south.

Most of the bodies were found in the Blantyre area, according to local police. "Rescue operations are still ongoing, but they are hampered by the incessant rains," spokeswoman Beatrice Mikuwa told AFP. In the nearby township of Chilobwe, about forty houses were swept away and their occupants buried in the mud, an AFP journalist found.

Richard Duwa, 38, a civil servant, told AFP of the water rising suddenly in the middle of the night. At 03:00 GMT (05:00 local time), he received a phone call: five members of his family living in the township were swept away. "We have just found the body of a little boy but the others are still nowhere to be found," he said. He has to go to the morgue. Bodies were found downstream, it could be his relatives.

Weakening in sight?

The national airline, Malawi Airlines, has cancelled all flights to Blantyre until further notice. Freddy is expected to return to sea during the week and weaken, according to forecasts.

The phenomenon, formed off Australia and which reached the storm stage in early February, has been raging in the Indian Ocean for thirty-five days. It passed off the French island of Réunion and Mauritius causing limited damage. Several storms or cyclones cross the southwest Indian Ocean each year during the cyclone season which runs from November to April.

  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Natural disaster
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  • World