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Cyclone Idai: 1,000 people may be dead, says Mozambique president

By Clyde Hughes and Darryl Coote
Cyclone Idai: 1,000 people may be dead, says Mozambique president
Residents of Chiluvi walk along a flooded and muddy street after Cyclone Idai hit in Nhamatanda, Mozambique, last week. Photo by Andre Catueira/EPA-EFE

March 18 (UPI) -- Cyclone Idai may have killed a 1,000 people in Mozambique, President Filipe Nyusi said, and 100,000 more are still at risk.

"For the moment we have registered 84 deaths officially, but when we flew over the area ... this morning to understand what's going on, everything indicates that we could register more than 1,000 deaths," he said in a nationwide address Monday, Club of Mozambique reported.

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The death toll for eastern Africa has risen to 215 since the tropical storm with Category 3 hurricane winds made landfall Thursday in Mozambique, before tearing through Zimbabwe and Malawi over the weekend.

At least 125 people have been killed in Zimbabwe and Malawi, according to the Red Cross.

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Nyusi fears the death toll for his country will skyrocket after having taken a flight over affected areas and seen bodies floating in flooded towns.

"The waters of the Pungue and Buzi overflowed their banks making entire villages disappear and isolating communities, and bodies are floating," he said. "A real disaster of great proportions."

Making matters worse is the U.N. is projecting heavy rainfall until Thursday for Sofala and Manica provinces, which have already been devastated as a bridge over the Buzi River that connected several districts in both provinces with the rest of the country has been destroyed.

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The National Directorate of Water Resources is recommending people in flood-prone areas to evacuate to higher ground immediately.

Beira bore the brunt of the cyclone, where International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent aid workers described the damage as "massive and horrifying."

"The situation is terrible," Jamie LeSueur, who's leading the Red Cross assessment team in Beira, said in a statement. "The scale of devastation is enormous. It seems that 90 percent of the area is completely destroyed."

The city remains cut-off from the surrounding areas as the storm has rendered major roads impassable, according to the U.N.

The IFRC said the storm caused major damage to several districts in the eastern part of Mozambique, with Chimanimani and Chipinge districts in Manicaland province receiving the most damage. Authorities said more than 100 people are missing in Zimbabwe.

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"Almost everything is destroyed," LeSueur added. "Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible. Beira has been severely battered."

LeSueur said a large dam broke over the weekend, and buried the last road into the area.

About 1.5 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe have been affected by the storm, U.N. officials said.

"[It] has compounded destructive flooding that has already occurred as far inland as southern Malawi and eastern Zimbabwe," World Food Program spokesman Hervé Verhoosel told reporters in Geneva.

Mozambique information minister Nick Mangwawa said the army and air force have been deployed for rescue efforts, as have private and public ambulances.

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