March 20 (UPI) -- The death count of Cyclone Idai soared past 200 in Mozambique on Tuesday, but the United Nations said experts fear that total could eventually surpass 1,000 as emergency personnel continue to discover bodies along southeastern Africa.
Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi said more than 200 deaths have been confirmed. One day earlier, he said the death toll could likely rise above 1,000. In nearby Zimbabwe, 98 deaths have been blamed on the storm that came ashore as a Category 3, that country's ministry of information, publicity and broadcasting said Monday.
The cyclone, being called one of the worst ever in the southern hemisphere, is still being played out as rescue crews continue to pluck victims from high flood water.
"We are at a point where are taking people that have water up to their heads and taking them by helicopter or by boat to places where water are up to their ankles," Pedro Matos, emergency coordinator for the World Food Program, told Al Jazeera. "We are in the life-saving phase. We are not at the point where we can do medical assessments because health is our second-most important thing."
The United Nations reported that storm victims continue to cling to rooftops while waiting for help. The United Nations said roads and bridges have been washed away, hindering rescue efforts.
"We are talking about a massive disaster right now where hundreds of thousands - in the millions of people -- [are] potentially affected," Jens Laerke from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. "We need all the logistical support that we can possibly get."
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported at least 400,000 people in central Mozambique are homeless because of the storm.
"It is a humanitarian catastrophe for the people of Central Mozambique," Jamie LeSueur, who is leading response efforts in Beira for the federation, said. "Large parts of Beira have been damaged, entire villages and towns have been completely flooded. Rescuers are scrambling to pull people trapped on rooftops and in trees to safety. Many, many families have lost everything."
UNICEF, the U.N. children's organization, said Tuesday that it was able to start delivering supplies to southern Malawi where the storm and high water destroyed homes and infrastructure.
"After a disaster like the recent floods, UNICEF's priority is to help children and families who have lost their homes and are living in evacuation centers or with other families in their communities," UNICEF Malawi representative Johannes Wedenig said.
About 1.5 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe have been affected by the storm, U.N. officials said.