Malawi’s president has appealed for global support to tackle “a national tragedy” after Cyclone Freddy pummelled the southeast African nation, causing flooding and mudslides that have killed hundreds.
“The level of devastation we are dealing with here is greater than the resources we have at our disposal,” President Lazarus Chakwera said on Wednesday in declaring two weeks of national mourning.
The government has promised $1.5 million to assist the tens of thousands of Malawians affected by the storm, which authorities say has killed at least 225 in the country and wounded hundreds.
Rescuers scrambled to reach survivors in southern parts of Malawi, mostly around the commercial capital of Blantyre, after Freddy smashed into the country and neighbouring Mozambique, triggering floods and landslides that have killed nearly 290 people in both countries.
The cyclone began to fade on Wednesday after travelling 8,000 kilometres across the Indian Ocean, before looping back over the ocean and then reversing course to strike Africa a second time, setting an unofficial record as the world’s longest tropical storm.
Chakwera said Freddy was the third storm to “assault” Malawi in 13 months, calling it “a testament to the realities of climate change”.
After visiting some of the affected areas, he said the damage and the plight of the victims were “far worse than the images and footage we have been seeing”.
The president also attended a funeral ceremony for some of the victims in the Blantyre township of Chilobwe.
“This is a national tragedy,” Chakwera, wearing a raincoat and rubber boots, told mourners at a service held at a primary school where 21 coffins, some decked with little more than simple wreaths, were lined up under a tent.
In a national address, he said the sight of the coffins “laid side-by-side, including several from the same family, was nothing short of heartbreaking”.
Mozambique appeals for aid
Weather conditions were expected to improve as the storm dissipated after days of torrential rains, but localised thunderstorms would persist, Malawian forecasters said.
Flood levels remained high in several areas, hampering emergency efforts.
In Mozambique, the storm led to 63 deaths and displaced 49,000 people according to official statistics.
President Filipe Nyusi appealed for aid to rebuild destroyed infrastructure, in an address to the nation on Wednesday night.
Freddy is arguably the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record, having first made landfall in February before afflicting Madagascar, Mauritius and Mozambique.
It then returned to the Indian Ocean and gathered new force over the warm waters, then reversed course to come back much more powerful, packing wind gusts of up to 200 kilometres per hour.
Cyclones tracking across the entire Indian Ocean are very infrequent, meteorologists say, with the last occurring in 2000.