Cyclone Freddy kills at least 225 in Malawi

Freddy caused death and desolation in Malawi. President Lazarus Chakwera called on Wednesday for international assistance to deal with the ravages of the cyclone, “a national tragedy”, which killed at least 225 people in this poor country in southern Africa.

The Head of State has declared two weeks of national mourning, with the flags lowered during the first week. Cyclone Freddy “is the third in thirteen months to hit our country. Proof of the realities of climate change,” he said in a televised speech.

A ceremony with 21 coffins lined up

Traveling earlier to Blantyre, the economic capital and epicenter of the disaster, he attended a ceremony for the victims. Dozens of mourners attended the rally held at a school in Chilobwe township. Twenty-one coffins decorated with wreaths of flowers were lined up under a tent, protected from the fine and continuous rain. An emergency ministerial meeting authorized the release of 1.6 billion kwacha (1.44 million euros) for the affected populations. “But I can already tell you that this money will not be enough,” the president stressed in his speech.

With an exceptional longevity, Freddy had already hit southern Africa at the end of February, killing 17 people, before returning in the opposite direction at the beginning of March. With less powerful winds but carrying torrential rains, the cyclone caused heavy flooding and deadly landslides in Malawi, a landlocked country where a state of disaster was declared. The police and the army were deployed.

A dreaded jump in cholera cases

Several dozen people are still missing. President Chakwera has pledged to “intensify” the search. More than 88,300 others are homeless. Schools and churches have been turned into emergency shelters. A total of 165 centers have been opened.

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The destruction is “enormous”, explains Felix Washon, spokesperson for the Malawi Red Cross Society. And the collapsed bridges and the still high water level in some places complicate rescue operations. Survivors were found on trees and rooftops. In Chilobwe, vulnerable houses made of bricks and earth were devastated by massive mudslides. The NGO Doctors Without Borders, present on the spot, fears a jump in cholera cases in the country which is already fighting against a deadly epidemic of this disease. According to the latest forecasts, Freddy should dissipate over land but the rains are likely to persist for several more days.

The cyclone also hit neighboring Mozambique, where it claimed 63 lives, according to the National Institute for Disaster Management. Ten people died during his first visit to the country at the end of February.

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