Malawi cyclone survivors struggle with desperation as survivors’ hopes dwindle
Survivors of Cyclone Freddy clung to smoldering hopes of finding missing relatives on Tuesday after the storm hit Malawi, hitting Africa a second time in record numbers.
At least 110 people in the impoverished country have died since Freddie crashed into South Africa over the weekend, just weeks after he delivered the fatal blow in late February, according to preliminary UN figures.
Many have died in landslides that washed away makeshift homes in the country’s commercial capital, Blantyre.
Despair seized Chilobwe, a town on the outskirts of the city, which accounts for about half of the victims.
Wet from the rains that had been falling for several days, the survivors, in disbelief, wandered around, looking at the flattened houses and buildings.
Many believed that there were still people under the dirty rubble of clay bricks, but there were no rescuers in sight.
John Whitman, 80, in a raincoat and wool cap, with 10 members of his family in tow, stood in front of his son-in-law’s house. Only stones and gushing water remained, because the house was washed away with water.
“I wish we could find him and find a way out. We feel helpless because no one can help us – we don’t know what to do,” he told AFP.
In Chimkwankhund, an area a few kilometers (miles) away, Steve Panganani Matera, wearing a bright green jacket, pointed to a mound of mud.
“There were a lot of houses, but they all disappeared,” Matera said.
“There, down in the mud, there are many bodies, many bodies.”
Rescuers also expected an increase in the number of victims.
“The situation is very dire,” said Guilherme Botelho, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency project coordinator.
“There are many victims, injured, missing or dead, and in the coming days, the number will only increase.”
Cyclone Freddie reached landlocked Malawi early Monday morning after sweeping across Mozambique over the weekend.
The storm last week unofficially surpassed the World Meteorological Organization’s benchmark for the longest tropical cyclone on record, set in 1994 for a 31-day storm named John.
The process of confirming whether Freddie is the new title holder could take months.
Freddie brewed up a few weeks ago off the northern coast of Australia and became a named storm on February 6th.
It crossed the entire southern Indian Ocean and made landfall in Madagascar on February 21, crossed the island and reached Mozambique on February 24, claiming almost two dozen lives in both countries and affecting about 400,000 people.
Then he returned to the Indian Ocean, refueled with the warmth of its waters and returned much more powerful over the weekend.
Meteorologists say that cyclones that cross the entire Indian Ocean are very rare – the last such occurrence was in 2000 – and Freddy’s loop is even more exceptional.
“It’s a very rare thing for these cyclones to feed themselves over and over again,” said climate change expert and professor Colin Vogel from the University of the Witwatersrand of South Africa.
“People don’t expect them to come back again once they’ve already struck.”
“Climate change is starting to affect these systems,” Vogel said, adding, however, that more research is needed to be more certain.
More than 19,000 people were affected by the hurricane in Malawi, according to the UN.
The cyclone has brought even more trouble to a country battling the deadliest cholera outbreak in its history, which has killed more than 1,600 people since last year.
Fears of a resurgence of cholera after the outbreak began after another Tropical Storm Anna last year are exacerbated by a vaccine shortage.
“It’s too early to say if anything will happen, but we have to be vigilant to see if there are new cases,” MSF’s Botelho said.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed condolences over the deaths of almost 150 people in the three countries affected by the hurricane.