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Cyclone endangers families

Rapidly rising floodwaters have created "an inland ocean" in Mozambique endangering scores of thousands of families, aid workers said Tuesday as they scrambled to rescue survivors of Cyclone Idai who clung to rooftops and trees.

Hundreds were dead, many more were missing and thousands were at risk in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi has said the death toll could reach 1,000.

Emergency workers called it the region's most destructive flooding in 20 years. Heavy rains are expected to continue through Thursday.

"This is a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour," said Herve Verhoosel with the World Food Program. Many people were "crammed on rooftops and elevated patches of land outside the port city of Beira" and WFP was rescuing as many as possible and airdropping food, water and blankets, he said.

Mozambique's Pungue and Buzi rivers had overflowed, creating "inland oceans extending for miles and miles in all directions," Verhoosel said. Dams have reached 95 per cent to 100 per cent capacity.

"People visible from the air may be the lucky ones and the top priority now is to rescue as many as possible," he said.

The extent of the damage was not yet known as many areas remained impassible. With key roads washed away, aid groups were trying to get badly needed food, medicine and fuel into hard-hit Beira, a city of some 500,000 people, by air and sea.

Cyclone Idai swept across central Mozambique before dropping huge amounts of rain in neighbouring Zimbabwe's eastern mountains. That rainfall is now rushing back through Mozambique, further inundating the already flooded countryside.

"It's dire," Caroline Haga of the Red Cross told The Associated Press from Beira. "We did an aerial surveillance yesterday and saw people on rooftops and in tree branches. The waters are still rising and we are desperately trying to save as many as possible."

Satellite images were helping the rescue teams to target the most critical areas, Haga said. Rescue operations were based at Beira airport, one of the few places in the city with working communications.

The waters flooded a swath of land more than 30 miles wide in central Mozambique, said the aid group Save the Children, and more than 100,000 people were at risk.

Hardest hit is Beira, where thousands of homes have been destroyed.

The city and surrounding areas have no power and nearly all communication lines have been destroyed. Beira's main hospital has been badly damaged. The cities of Dondo and Chimoio are also badly affected.



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