Making a comeback on March 12, after it first hit in late February, Cyclone Freddy hit Mozambique and Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, with heavy rains and strong winds causing damage to infrastructure such as roads, buildings and electricity lines.
The cyclone, which is similar to a hurricane, killed more than 100 people after packing powerful winds and torrential rain, the storm returned to Southern Africa’s mainland and barreled through populated areas for the second time in a few weeks.
Malawi bore the brunt, counting at least 99 deaths after mudslides overnight washed away houses and sleeping occupants. Another 134 people were injured and 16 are reported missing. Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre recorded 85 deaths and Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera has declared a state of disaster.
In neighboring Mozambique, at least 10 people died and 14 were wounded.
English-speaking Malawi has a population of over 19 million, while in Mozambique with almost 32 million residents, Portuguese is the official and most widely spoken language.
“The situation is very dire. There are many casualties, either wounded, missing or dead, and the numbers will only increase in the coming days,” says Guilherme Botelho, the emergency project coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders.
“The Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre is overwhelmed with the influx of casualties coming from different areas, so we have put together a team of nurses and clinical officers to provide medical and logistic support. We are also donating medical supplies and will assess if food needs to be provided to patients,” says Botelho.
According to official numbers, Blantyre district has recorded the highest number of deaths in the country since the cyclone hit. Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital alone has reported 220 casualties, of which 42 adults and 43 children were pronounced dead on arrival.
“We have redirected some of our staff from our regular project for cervical cancer to assist our emergency team at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital,” says Marion Pechayre, MSF head of mission in Malawi.
“We have also suspended outreach activities to protect our staff from any risks linked to flash floods and landslides during movements or building collapsing,” says Pechayre.
The threat of a resurgence of cholera also remains a serious concern as Malawi recently suffered the biggest outbreak the country has seen in its history after tropical storm Ana hit last year.
“We have moved the cholera treatment centres close by to the hospital to ensure the safety of the patients,” says Botelho. “The rain hasn’t stopped yet and there is a lot of damage, which really worries us on many levels.
“Indeed, another rise in cholera cases is one of our concerns in the aftermath of this storm, especially since the vaccine coverage in Blantyre is very poor.”
MSF emergency teams will continue to assess the situation and needs of people and health facilities in the most affected southern districts of Malawi in the coming days to provide support, including treatment and access to clean water and sanitation.
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