Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera called on Wednesday for international help to deal with the devastation of Cyclone Freddy, “a national tragedy”, which killed at least 225 people in the poor southern African country.

The Head of State has declared two weeks of national mourning, with the flags lowered during the first week. “This cyclone is the third in 13 months to hit our country. Proof of the realities of climate change,” he said in a televised speech.

Traveling earlier to Blantyre (south), economic capital and epicenter of the disaster, he attended a ceremony for the victims. “It’s a national tragedy,” he said, wearing a raincoat and rain boots.

“I appeal to international partners and donors to provide additional assistance in the face of the destruction and damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy,” he continued.

Dozens of mourners attended the rally held at a school in Chilobwe township, near Blantyre. Twenty-one coffins adorned with wreaths of flowers were lined up under a tent, protected from the fine and continuous rain.

An emergency ministerial meeting authorized the release of 1.6 billion kwacha (1.5 million dollars) for the affected populations. “But I can already tell you that this money will not be enough,” Chakwera said in his speech.

With exceptional longevity, Freddy had already hit southern Africa at the end of February, killing 17 people, before returning in the opposite direction in early March.

With less powerful winds but carrying torrential rains, the cyclone caused heavy flooding and deadly landslides in Malawi, a landlocked country where a state of disaster was declared. The police and the army were deployed.

Several dozen people are still missing. President Chakwera has pledged to “intensify” the search.

More than 88,300 others are homeless. Schools and churches have been turned into emergency shelters. A total of 165 centers have been opened.

The destruction is “enormous”, Felix Washon, spokesman for the Malawi Red Cross Society, told AFP. And the collapsed bridges and the still high water level in some places complicate rescue operations. Survivors were found on trees and rooftops.

In Chilobwe, vulnerable houses made of bricks and earth were devastated by massive mudslides.

But life has already slowly resumed, markets and businesses have reopened.

“There are dead here, all around,” said 19-year-old Fadila Njolomole.

The NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF), present on the spot, fears a jump in cholera cases in the country which is already fighting against a deadly epidemic of this disease.

According to the latest forecasts, Freddy should dissipate over land but the rains are likely to persist for several more days.

The cyclone also hit neighboring Mozambique, where it claimed 63 lives, according to the National Institute for Disaster Management (INGD in Portuguese).

President Filipe Nyusi went on Wednesday to the province most affected during this second wave, Zambezia (center), bordering Malawi.

“We deplore 53 deaths in this province,” Nyusi said in a televised statement after the visit, calling for an “emergency” mobilization of national and international aid to “repair the destroyed infrastructure”.

Ten people had died during the first passage of the cyclone in Mozambique at the end of February.

In the coastal town of Quelimane about 40 km from where the cyclone landed, the rain has not stopped since the weekend. Many houses are destroyed, roofs torn off and roads cut: “The city is almost an island”, according to Thomas Bonnet of the NGO Friends in Global Health, on the spot.

Freddy, who made an unprecedented crossing of more than 8,000 km from east to west in the Indian Ocean, has been raging for more than 35 days. It is on the way to being classified as the longest cyclone in history by meteorologists.

Tropical storms and cyclones appear several times a year in the southwest Indian Ocean, during the hurricane season from November to April.

15/03/2023 23:28:30 – Blantyre (Malawi) (AFP) – © 2023 AFP