Malawi buries cyclone victims as death toll rises

  • More than 270 dead in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar
  • Over 16,000 affected in Malawi – UN
  • Malawi’s president is calling on the international community for help

BLANTYRE/MAPUTO, March 15 (Reuters) – Malawian families gathered on Wednesday to remember and bury the victims of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, with President Lazarus Chakwera calling on the international community for support as the toll continued to mount.

Freddy ripped through southern Africa for the second time in a month this weekend and continued to bring heavy rain on Wednesday, hampering relief efforts.

“I am personally so devastated,” Chakwera told reporters in Naotcha, Chilobwe township, on the outskirts of Blantyre. “Sometimes when you walk past so many coffins, you can’t help but cry because, dear ones, an entire family has been completely wiped out and so many others have been touched.”

Malawi’s disaster relief department said in a statement that the death toll from the storm’s second hit had risen from 190 to 225, with 707 injured and 41 missing.

“We use hope as our currency to encourage those who have survived that we will not leave them alone as we trust you, as our international neighbours, to come through so that the Malawians can carry on that hope,” said the president , adding that survivors need clothing, food and shelter.

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Gift Daniel, a survivor from Tauchila village in Chiradzulu district, told Reuters that he managed to save his wife and three children, but lost his in-laws and other relatives.

“We didn’t know what was going on and were screaming at relatives. We tried to escape, but we were taken away by the water,” said Daniel, adding that he now had no place to stay.

Tamara Black, 26, said she almost lost her baby before anyone could save him.

“What I saw was frightening, something I’ve never seen in my life. When I came out of the house, it was like the sky was moving,” she said in her local language, Chichewa.

The UN refugee agency said in a statement it was deeply concerned about the devastation and impact of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which affected more than 16,000 people in 10 districts in Malawi’s southern region.

In neighboring Mozambique, according to the disaster service, at least 21 people died on Tuesday.

The total death toll since Freddy first made landfall in February is now estimated at more than 270 in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar.

Malawi’s army, police, local Red Cross and other aid organizations conducted search and rescue operations, with the Blantyre trading center one of the hardest hit areas.

Violent flooding and mudslides have swept away homes, destroyed bridges and destroyed roads. Heavy rain continues to fall in the Mozambican port of Quelimane and surrounding areas.

“Our priority now, as we take stock of what has really happened, is to search and rescue people in the most devastated areas. We have rescued thousands, but thousands are still unreachable,” disaster agency spokesman Paulo Tomas said by telephone from Quelimane.

Reporting by Frank Phiri in Blantyre, Manuel Mucari in Maputo, Tom Gibb and James Chanika in Chiradzulu; Additional reporting by Nellie Peyton in Johannesburg; Written by Bhargav Acharya and Anait Miridzhanian; Edited by Alexander Winning, Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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