Death toll climbs as Cyclone Freddy slams Malawi, Mozambique

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BLANTYRE, Malawi – The relentless Cyclone Freddy currently battering southern Africa has killed at least 56 people in Malawi and Mozambique since it hit the continent for the second time on Saturday night, the authorities in both countries have confirmed.

Local police said 51 people in Malawi, including 36 in Chilobwe in the central financial center of Blantyre have died, with several others missing or injured. Authorities in Mozambique reported that five people have been killed in the country since Saturday.

Among the deaths in Malawi are five members of a single family who died in Ndirande township of Blantyre after Freddy’s destructive winds and heavy rain demolished their house, according to a police report. A three-year-old child who was “trapped in the debris” is also among the victims, and her parents are among those reported missing, authorities also said.

“We suspect that this figure will rise as we try to compile one national report from our south-west, south-east and east police offices that cover the areas of is affected,” Malawi police spokesman Peter Kalaya told the AP.

The cyclone passed over Mozambique and Malawi over the weekend and into Monday. This is the second time that the highest cyclone – which has been causing destruction in the southern part of Africa since the end of February – has reached the African mainland. It also pumped the island states of Madagascar and Réunion as it crossed the ocean.

The cyclone has deepened seven times and has the highest accumulated cyclone energy ever recorded, or ACE, which is a measure of how much energy a cyclone has released over time. Freddy recorded more energy in his lifetime than a typical US hurricane season.

Freddy first developed near Australia in early February and traveled over the southern Indian Ocean. It is expected to be the longest tropical cyclone on record. The UN weather agency has called a panel of experts to find out if they broke the record set by Hurricane John in 1994 of 31 days.

Freddy made landfall in the port of Quelimane in Mozambique on Saturday where there are reports of damage to houses and farmland, although the extent of the destruction is still unclear. Telecommunications and other essential infrastructure remain cut off in much of the affected Zambezia province, hampering rescue and other humanitarian efforts.

The French weather agency Météo-France’s regional tropical cyclone monitoring center in Réunion warned on Monday that “the heaviest rains will continue over the next 48 hours” as Freddy progresses. Meteorologists have indicated that the main areas of Mozambique and Malawi are particularly vulnerable to “floods and landslides in mountainous areas”.

Much of the damage seen in Malawi has been done in homes built in areas that are prohibited by law such as in mountainous areas or near rivers where they fight landslides, floods that do not ever seen as rivers burst their banks. The cyclone has forced the Malawian government to cancel schools in 10 districts in its southern region “as a precaution.”

Freddy is expected to weaken and head back out to sea on Wednesday, according to Météo-France.

Alexandre Nhampossa and Tom Gould contributed to this report from Maputo, Mozambique. Kabukuru reported from Mombasa, Kenya.

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