Tropical Storm Freddy: Malawi struck by national tragedy

Poorer areas of Malawi’s main city, Blantyre, were hardest hit by the storm

The devastation caused by a tropical storm that ripped through Malawi, killing 225 people is a “national tragedy,” the president said.

Lazarus Chakwera has promised to step up search and rescue operations, as he attended the funerals of some victims.

Tropical Storm Freddy led to people being swept away by rushing waters or being buried under landslides.

The government has set up 30 emergency camps for at least 20,000 people who have had to leave their homes.

Blantyre, the hilly commercial capital of Malawi, has been hardest hit, with residents dying in landslides and homes crumbling in floodwaters.

“Our health workers also need help,” Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

Describing the situation as “very fragile,” he said more than five million people were affected by the storm.

“We have a history of cyclones. Unfortunately for Freddy, it was totally different, totally unexpected,” he said.

“We are still recovering bodies. A child has been recovered, fortunately still alive,” added Chiponda.

The government’s disaster management agency said 41 people were still missing and more than 700 were injured as the storm battered Blantyre and other parts of southern Malawi.

“My best friend, her brother, her sister and her mother went with the mudslide and their bodies weren’t found. It’s devastating. You can’t even cry,” 19-year-old Blantyre resident Fadila Njolomole was quoted by the AFP news agency as mentioned.

President Chakwera, wearing rubber boots and a raincoat, attended the memorial service for 21 victims at an elementary school in the city.

“I ask for more assistance from international partners and donors. This is a national tragedy that has affected each of us,” he said.

He declared 14 days of national mourning.

Mr. Chakwera meets the victims of the storm

President Chakwera visited some of the storm victims in Blantyre

Collapsed roads and bridges hampered rescue operations, while helicopters found it difficult to fly due to heavy rains and high winds, although these have now abated.

The defense minister earlier said a military helicopter would be sent to rescue two soldiers who spent Tuesday night in the top of a tree to avoid being swept away by the powerful currents of a river below them.

The soldiers were on a mission to rescue flood survivors when their boat capsized, forcing them to swim out into a tree.

Two other soldiers and a civilian swam to safety, but the other two were reported missing, leading to fears that they had drowned.

In another village in the Mulanje area, a man sent a WhatsApp message on Tuesday, saying heavy rains and winds were picking up on them from two mountainous areas.

“We have no hope, nowhere to go,” she said, adding that women, children and the elderly were among those to be evacuated.

It is unclear whether a rescue team reached them.

Freddy dumped the equivalent of six months of rain in six days on Malawi and neighboring Mozambique.

About 20 deaths have been reported in Mozambique.

United Nations official Myrta Kaulard said the devastation in Mozambique was not as bad as feared because her government had invested in flood defense measures after being hit by tropical storms for the past three years.

“This is a huge demonstration of how much huge investment is needed due to the intensity of climate change in a country like Mozambique,” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

Freddy is one of only four storms in history to cross the entire Indian Ocean from northwestern Australia to mainland Africa. Freddy may also be the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The storm hit Mozambique like a cyclone on Sunday – for the second time in less than a month – after hitting the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar, causing severe destruction.

Experts say climate change is making tropical storms around the world wetter, windier and more intense.

The storm also crippled energy supplies in Malawi, with most of the country experiencing prolonged outages.

The national power company said it was unable to operate its hydroelectric plant as it had been filled with debris.



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