Malawi is now paying the heaviest price after the second passage of Cyclone Freddy. Record longevity has struck twice in southern Africa, and continues to wreak havoc in Malawi. A latest assessment reported Tuesday at least "190 dead, 584 injured and 37 missing," said in a statement the National Disaster Management Office of this poor and landlocked country. A previous assessment the day before reported 99 deaths and it could still increase as the search, still ongoing, progresses.
After making landfall for the second time over the weekend in Mozambique, killing at least ten people, Freddy headed early in the early hours of Monday to southern neighbouring Malawi. A state of natural disaster has been declared in the Blantyre region, the economic capital epicentre of the disaster.
In the township of Chilobwe, near Blantyre, stunned residents froze in front of the remains of houses swept away by mudslides. The wind has dropped but the rain continues to fall. Residents say they are convinced dozens of bodies are still there, buried under the mud. Excavators have been deployed in some locations. The day before, families and rescuers searched the earth with their bare hands in the pouring rain.
The hospital in the region is "overwhelmed by the influx of wounded," warned in a statement Doctors Without Borders, present on the spot. "Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital alone received 220 people, including 42 adults and 43 children who were declared dead on arrival." In particular, the NGO fears a resurgence of cholera. Nearly 20,000 people in the country have been affected by the bad weather, according to the UN. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement he was "saddened by the loss of life".
Climate change at issue
Freddy first hit southern Africa at the end of February. After an unprecedented crossing of more than 10,000 km from east to west in the Indian Ocean, it had made landfall in Madagascar before hitting Mozambique. The death toll was 17. Recharging in intensity and humidity over warm seas, with winds in excess of 220 km/h, Freddy then turned back, returning to southern Africa two weeks later. It killed ten people last week on their way back to Madagascar.
"It's very rare for these cyclones to feed again and again," said Coleen Vogel, a climate expert at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, blaming climate change. Freddy formed off Australia in early February and has been raging in the Indian Ocean for 36 days. Tropical Cyclone John lasted 31 days in 1994.
- Natural disaster