A week after Cyclone Idai lashed southern Africa, flooding still raged Thursday as torrential rains caused a dam to overflow in Zimbabwe, threatening riverside populations. The confirmed death toll in Zimbabwe, neighboring Mozambique and Malawi surpassed 500, with hundreds more feared dead in towns and villages that were completely submerged.
Aid agencies and several governments continued to step up their deployments, with helicopters in short supply for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the cyclone.
Spokesman Herve Verhoosel of the World Food Program told reporters in Geneva of the “alarming news” that the Marowanyati dam in Zimbabwe was hit by heavy rains overnight, putting populations in the region at risk.
Zimbabwe’s defense minister said more than 120 bodies had been washed into neighboring Mozambique, where residents there buried them, and more bodies were still being recovered in rivers, raising the official death toll in the country to 259.
“Most of the bodies were washed into Mozambique and because they were in a really bad state, they could not keep the bodies,” Defense Minister Oppah Muchinguri said, speaking in the eastern city of Mutare. “So they ended up burying them.”
Meanwhile, the confirmed death toll in Mozambique rose to 217, the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported, and in Malawi, at least 56 people were killed. But that was sure to rise. Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has estimated that 1,000 people could have been killed in his country alone. Zimbabwean officials have said some 350 people may have died in their country.
Homes, villages and entire towns were submerged across central Mozambique, where flooding created a muddy inland ocean 30 miles (50 kilometers) wide. The U.N. food aid agency said 400,000 people were displaced and “in urgent need of life-saving assistance” in Mozambique’s coastal city of Beira and flooded areas along the Pungue and Buzi rivers.
The persistent rains lifted in some areas on Thursday, and floodwaters began to recede in Beira, the worst-hit city, and in the countryside, according to a Mozambican government report.
“Yesterday, 910 people were rescued by the humanitarian community,” said Caroline Haga of the International Federation of the Red Cross in Beira. She said 210 were rescued by five helicopters and 700 were saved by boats.
Aid groups were continuing to work non-stop to rescue families desperately clinging to tree branches and rooftops for safety from the surging waters.