After days of devastation caused by severe tropical storm Freddy, rescue workers continued to search for bodies and survivors in Malawi on Thursday. According to authorities, the cyclone claimed more than 400 lives in three countries in south-eastern Africa - Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar. The hardest hit is impoverished Malawi, where the civil protection agency reported 326 deaths on Thursday - over 100 more than known the day before.
After almost a week, the heavy rains had finally subsided in large parts of the country on Thursday. President Lazarus Chakwera visited victims in the worst-hit areas in the south of the country. The government announced a two-week national mourning - flags flew at half-mast. "It's a national tragedy that has struck every one of us," Chakwera said, speaking to those in need outside of the economic hub of Blantyre.
According to official figures, almost 1,000 people were injured in Malawi alone as a result of the unusually long-lasting tropical storm "Freddy". At least 83,000 people have become homeless, according to the government. The government has declared a disaster for the most affected region, southern Malawi.
Entire villages destroyed by mud
Roads, bridges and railroad tracks destroyed by floodwaters and landslides made life difficult for rescue workers. The government said the telecommunications and power supply had been disrupted in many parts of the country. According to the UN children's charity Unicef, the villages of Manja and Soche were completely destroyed by a mudslide. Residents tried to get to safety over a bridge made of loose tree trunks over torrential waters in higher areas. According to Unicef, numerous health centers were also damaged. Schools remained closed this week.
Desperate residents searched rubble for missing family members on Thursday. Others lined up at the entrance to morgues to identify victims. "It's a sad day for Malawi. My neighbors have lost ten family members. Several people I know are missing," said Thomas Bhanda from the Chilobwe community - that's near Blantyre - the German Press Agency.
The last moment Kiam Jegwa can remember is a flood of water entering his home in Blantyre. Next, he woke up in the city's central hospital. "I can't remember anything. I hope my family will find me soon," said the 37-year-old. In the next room, 25-year-old Jamia is sitting by the bed of her four-year-old daughter. The two have been homeless since the roof of their house collapsed and a falling roof beam injured the child's leg. Like many of those affected, Jamia, who does not want to give her last name, and her daughter will first have to find shelter in a school or church.
Dead also in other countries in Southeast Africa
Cyclone "Freddy" left a trail of devastation in south-east Africa for the second time in a month since last Friday. At least 67 people died in neighboring Mozambique, according to President Filipe Nyusi. The number could therefore double, since many affected areas are not yet accessible. At least 17 people were also killed in the island nation of Madagascar.
Authorities in Malawi and Mozambique were still determining the exact extent of the damage as of Thursday, sources said. "The situation is extremely dire. Many people are wounded, missing or dead. The numbers will increase in the coming days," said Guilherme Botelho, director of the aid organization Doctors Without Borders in Blantyre. To make matters worse, a devastating cholera outbreak, which was triggered by tropical storm "Ana" last year and is now affecting eleven countries in Southeast Africa, says Bothelho.
"Freddy" reached land for the first time on February 21 - in Madagascar. From there the storm moved on to Mozambique and then back across the Indian Ocean. On March 11, "Freddy" reached Mozambique and Malawi for the second time.
According to the World Weather Organization (WMO), the storm, which has been raging for more than a month, is likely to be the longest-lasting cyclone since weather records began. "Freddy" was declared a cyclone on February 6. Southern Africa is currently in cyclone season which can bring rain and severe storms through March or April.