Cyclone Freddy, with exceptional longevity, has killed more than 400 people in southern Africa, the vast majority in Malawi, where the toll worsened Thursday night, the hope of finding survivors becoming increasingly thin.
Freddy struck twice in a few weeks in the region, killing 73 people in Mozambique, 17 in Madagascar and now 326 in Malawi, according to a latest national assessment announced in the evening by the president of this landlocked country, among the poorest on the planet.
"Since yesterday (Wednesday), the death toll of this disaster has risen from 225 to 326, the number of displaced has more than doubled" exceeding 183,000 in Malawi, said Lazarus Chakwera, traveling to Blantyre (south), economic capital and epicenter of bad weather.
Malawi hit hard
Formed in early February off the coast of Australia, the cyclone on the verge of being ranked the longest ever recorded made an unprecedented crossing of more than 8,000 km from east to west in the Indian Ocean.
It made landfall for the first time on February 21 on the east coast of Madagascar, killing 7 people. The phenomenon, which has been raging for more than thirty-five days, then hit Mozambique, killing 10 people. It then turned back in early March and hit Madagascar a second time, killing 10 more people. It also returned to Mozambique, where it caused another 63 deaths.
But it was in Malawi, which had previously only felt an increase in rainfall levels and where the cyclone finally hit on Monday, that Freddy wreaked the most havoc. Weakened but with gusts still reaching 200 km / h on its return, the phenomenon brought torrential rains that led to heavy flooding and landslides. The densely populated region of Blantyre is devastated. A state of disaster and two weeks of national mourning have been declared. The police and army have been deployed.
Buried in the mud
On Thursday, neighbors and rescuers continued to search the mud in hopes of finding survivors. But rescue operations are increasingly resulting in a macabre collection of decomposing bodies.
In the township of Manje, near Blantyre, residents called for help. Hundreds of bodies are buried there, in the mud, they assure AFP. The putrid smell and air bubbles rising to the surface of the waterlogged ground leave little doubt. In front of a house in poor condition and covered with earth, a dozen inhabitants and five soldiers begin to dig and extract a first body, that of a man. "I hope they find more bodies so they can be buried and rest in peace," said Rose Phiri, an elderly woman from the area.
In the midst of desolation, hope sometimes arises: the day before, help miraculously saved a child. Promise, 13, had been trapped for three days in the mud in her collapsed house.
Call for help
President Chakwera reiterated his plea for help on Thursday, saying "the needs are enormous." The head of state had appealed the day before for international help to cope with the immense destruction, describing the disaster as a "national tragedy".
In neighboring Mozambique, President Filipe Nyusi, who visited Wednesday the most affected province, Zambezia (center), bordering Malawi, had also called for an "urgent" mobilization of national and international aid to "repair the destroyed infrastructure". Tropical storms and cyclones appear several times a year in the southwestern Indian Ocean during the cyclone season which lasts from November to April.
- Natural disaster