It is Malawi which is today paying the heaviest price after the second passage of Cyclone Freddy. The record-breaking storm has struck twice in southern Africa, and continues to wreak havoc in Malawi. A final report on Tuesday reported at least “190 dead, 584 injured and 37 missing”, announced in a press release the National Office for Disaster Management of this poor and landlocked country. A previous report the day before reported 99 dead and it could increase further as the research, still in progress, advances.
After making landfall for the second time over the weekend in Mozambique, killing at least ten people, Freddy headed in the early hours of Monday for southern neighboring Malawi. A state of natural disaster has been declared in the region of Blantyre, the economic capital epicenter of the disaster.
In the township of Chilobwe, near Blantyre, stunned residents stood frozen in front of the remains of houses washed away by the mudslides. The wind died down but the rain continued to fall. Residents say they believe dozens of bodies are still there, buried in the mud. Excavators have been deployed in some places. The day before, families and rescuers searched the ground with their bare hands in the pouring rain.
The hospital in the region is “overwhelmed by the influx of wounded”, alerted in a press release Doctors Without Borders, present on the spot. “Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital alone received 220 people, including 42 adults and 43 children who were declared dead on arrival.” The NGO fears in particular a resurgence of cholera. Nearly 20,000 people in the country have been affected by the bad weather, according to the UN. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement “saddened by the loss of life”.
Climate change blamed
Freddy had hit southern Africa for the first time at the end of February. After an unprecedented crossing of more than 10,000 km from east to west in the Indian Ocean, it made landfall in Madagascar before hitting Mozambique. The death toll was then 17. Recharging in intensity and humidity over warm seas, with winds in excess of 220 km/h, Freddy then turned around, returning to swoop down on southern Africa two weeks later. He killed ten people last week on his way back to Madagascar.
“It is very rare that these cyclones feed again and again”, underlines Coleen Vogel, climate expert at the South African University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, questioning climate change. Freddy formed off Australia in early February and has been raging in the Indian Ocean for thirty-six days. Tropical Cyclone John lasted 31 days in 1994.