In Malawi, where floods swept away entire villages this month after a storm swept through its southern parts, police and soldiers searched Friday for victims buried under mud and rocks as the death toll rose sharply.
The storm hit the southern African country as Tropical Cyclone Freddy swept through the region, killing more than 500 people in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar since it first made landfall in Africa in late February and circled back for a second time at the weekend.
As the storm dissipated, rain continued to hamper rescue efforts as vehicles struggled on flooded roads. In Malawi, which took the brunt of the storm with 438 people killed, soldiers used shovels and picks to exhume bodies in the commercial capital of Blantyre and laid them on the ground for identification.
Lieutenant Colonel Dickens Kamisa, who was involved in the search, said local authorities had identified about eight areas where the bodies should be buried and were using sniffer dogs to find the trapped Malawians. Chifundo Chilimba, a local resident, told Reuters he could not find his family members because the depth of the mud was too deep.
“My relatives could be deep under the rubble,” Chilimba said in his local Chichewa language, adding that all he could find were his family’s clothes. “We’ll bury these clothes I’m wearing if we don’t find them,” he added. Foreign planes and boats arrived in Malawi on Friday to help with the search and rescue, officials said.
Casper Chalera, a police inspector there, told by phone that the first rescue vessels would arrive from Zambia and Switzerland, adding that the US and South Africa also planned to send planes and boats to help. “Two Zambian planes have landed, one with relief items and an air operations helicopter,” Chalera said.
Lameck Kalenga, the deputy chief of military operations for the defense forces, told media on Thursday that the UK and Mozambique had also committed to sending military equipment.
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said it was providing food aid by distributing a partially precooked meal called a corn-soybean mixture to displaced people.
“(Severe floods) inundated farmland and destroyed production – just as farmers were about to harvest their only harvest of the year – and complicated an already difficult year in which 3.8 million people are in need of food assistance,” WFP said in a statement.
It added that the country had been hit by high maize prices and the worst cholera epidemic in decades. At least 76 people have died in Mozambique, according to government figures. The storm had already killed about 27 people in Madagascar and Mozambique before it hit Mozambique a second time.