Death toll from record-breaking cyclone Freddy jumps to 225 in Malawi

The death toll in Malawi from tropical cyclone Freddy has risen to 225, the country’s disaster management agency said on Wednesday, up from 190 reported on Tuesday.

The Department of Disaster Management Affairs also said in a statement that 707 people had been injured in the storm and 41 reported missing, as heavy rain continued to affect several parts of the southern African country.

“The numbers will only increase in the coming days,” said Guilherme Botelho, the emergency project co-ordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Malawi’s financial hub of Blantyre.

Malawi, which has been battling a cholera outbreak, is at risk of a resurgence of the disease, Botelho said, “especially since the vaccine coverage in Blantyre is very poor.”

Freddy expected to dissipate or move offshore

In neighbouring Mozambique, officials say at least 20 people have died since the storm made landfall in the port town of Quelimane on Saturday night.

After killing hundreds and displacing thousands in the two southern African countries, Freddy is set to move away from land Wednesday, which should bring some relief.

A regional cyclone monitoring centre on the island of Réunion projects that Freddy will move back out to sea by late Wednesday afternoon. It’s unclear whether the cyclone — now set to be the longest ever — will then dissipate or move away from land after that.

“Even rich countries that are advanced democracies would have been no match for the level of destruction this cyclone has brought,” said Kim Yi Dionne, a political scientist at the University of California Riverside. Freddy has accumulated more energy over its journey across the Indian Ocean than an entire U.S. hurricane season.

Yi Dionne said that the scale of destruction comes despite Malawi’s disaster agency having prepared and planned “for the challenges that come with our contemporary climate crisis.”

Scientists say climate change caused by mostly industrialized nations pumping greenhouse gases into the air has worsened cyclone activity, making them more intense and more frequent. The recently ended La Nina that impacts weather worldwide also increased cyclone activity in the region.

African nations, who only contribute about four per cent of planet-warming emissions, are “once again paying the steepest price to climate change, including their own lives,” said Lynn Chiripamberi, who leads Oxfam’s southern Africa humanitarian program.

Cyclone Freddy has been causing destruction in southern Africa since late February. It pummelled Mozambique as well as the islands of Madagascar and Réunion last month as it traversed the Indian Ocean.

Freddy first developed near Australia in early February. The UN’s weather agency has convened an expert panel to determine whether it has broken the record for the longest-ever cyclone in recorded history, which was set by 31-day Hurricane John in 1994.

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