Cyclone Freddy: Malawi calls for international help in the event of a “national tragedy”

Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera on Wednesday called for international help to deal with the devastation caused by Cyclone Freddy, “a national tragedy” that killed at least 225 people in the poor southern African country.

Traveling to Blantyre (South), the economic capital and epicenter of the disaster, the head of state attended a ceremony for the victims of the cyclone. “This is a national tragedy,” he said, wearing a raincoat and rain boots.

“I appeal to international partners and donors to provide additional assistance in the face of the destruction and damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy,” he continued.

Dozens of mourners attended a rally held at a school in Chilobwe township near Blantyre. Twenty-one coffins, decorated with garlands of flowers, were lined up under a tent, protected from the fine and incessant rain.

With less powerful winds but torrential rain, the cyclone caused massive flooding and deadly landslides in Malawi, a landlocked country where a state of disaster was declared. Police and army were deployed.

Several dozen people are still missing. President Chakwera has promised to “speed up” the search.

More than 88,300 others are homeless. Schools and churches have been converted into emergency shelters. A total of 165 centers have been opened. A dozen health facilities were affected by the devastation.

Felix Vashon, a spokesman for the Malawi Red Cross Society leading the relief effort, told AFP the devastation was “enormous”. And broken bridges and still high water levels in some places make rescue operations even more difficult. Survivors were found in trees and on rooftops.

Pope Francis said during his weekly Mass in St Peter’s Square that he prayed for the “dead, the injured, the displaced” affected by the “disaster” in Malawi.

– “Dead All Around” –

In Chilobwe, a massive mudslide destroyed fragile houses made of bricks and mud.

But life has already started slowly again, with markets and businesses reopening. Daoud Chitumba, 27, a minibus taxi driver, told AFP he had mouths to feed: “I have two little girls and obligations. We have to rebuild our lives”.

Barely two days ago, in this same impoverished neighborhood, families and rescue workers were digging through the soil, sometimes with their bare hands, in the hope of finding a loved one.

“There are dead all around here”, Fadila Njolomole, 19, is convinced. She says that the day before, two people were swept away by a landslide.

NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF), on the spot, fears a surge in cholera cases in the country, which is already fighting a deadly epidemic of the disease.

According to the latest forecast, Freddy should dissipate over land, but the rains are likely to persist for several more days.

The cyclone also hit neighboring Mozambique on its second pass. A still partial balance sheet reports 21 deaths but it could be worse. In the coastal town of Quelimane (centre), about 40 km from where the cyclone made landfall, it has not stopped raining since the weekend.

According to Thomas Bonnet of the NGO Friends in Global Health, many houses were destroyed on the spot, roofs were torn off and roads were cut: “the city is almost an island”.

President Filipe Nyusi is due to visit the region on Wednesday.

Freddy has been raging for over 35 days, making an unprecedented crossing of over 8,000 km from east to west in the Indian Ocean. It is on track to be classified by meteorologists as the longest cyclone in history.

Tropical storms and cyclones appear several times a year in the southwest Indian Ocean during the hurricane season from November to April.

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