Cyclone Freddy, packing powerful winds and torrential rain, killed at least 70 people in Malawi and Mozambique on its return to southern Africa’s mainland, authorities said Monday. In total, the storm has so far killed at least 97 people.
More than 60 bodies were found during the day in southern Malawi where heavy downpours triggered flooding, according to the Red Cross.
“Sixty-six people have died in Malawi, 93 injured and 16 people are missing due to Tropical Cyclone Freddy,” tweeted the humanitarian organization, which is helping with search and rescue operations.
Four more died in neighboring Mozambique, local authorities said.
An assessment of the damage was still underway, with the Mozambique National Institute for Disaster Management saying the fallout from the storm’s second landfall in the country was worse than expected.
“The number of affected people was above the forecast,” agency head Luisa Meque said, adding the storm also struck areas that had been “deemed safe.”
Freddy, a major cyclone on track to become the longest-lasting on record, barreled through southern Africa over the weekend for the second time within a few weeks, making a comeback after a first hit in late February.
At its strongest point during its journey, the U.S. government’s National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service said the cyclone was “equivalent to a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane.” Freddy has recorded more energy over its lifetime than an entire typical U.S. hurricane season.
In Malawi, Blantyre city was badly impacted, with regional police spokeswoman Beatrice Mikuwa saying 36 bodies were recovered in the township of Chilobwe “which has been hit the most” with dozens of houses washed away.
“Rescue efforts are still underway but they are being hampered by the incessant rains,” said Mikuwa.
Richard Duwa, 38, said his sister-in-law’s family was swept away by flash floods.
“We got a call from the neighbors at around 5 a.m. to say that, ‘Your relations have been washed away by the rains,'” Duwa, a government clerk, told AFP.
“Unfortunately, we have just recovered one body, a small boy, but the remaining four are not to be seen.”
Malawi’s government ordered schools in 10 southern districts to remain closed until Wednesday, with rains and winds expected to continue to batter the nation’s south.
National carrier Malawi Airlines said all flights to Blantyre have been canceled until further notice after an inbound plane ran into the bad weather midflight and was forced back to the capital Lilongwe.
Freddy reached the landlocked country early Monday morning after sweeping through Mozambique over the weekend.
In Mozambique, at least three people died in Namacura, a town in the central Zambezia province, according to district head Moura Xavier.
One more was reported dead over the weekend, after a house collapsed in the nearby district of Zalala.
The death toll was expected to increase, as authorities worked to reach all affected areas.
“We are prioritizing rescuing people and removing the lifeless bodies. We don’t have numbers,” said Andre Tazingua, a fire service commander in Zambezia.
“The most important thing is the assistance we are providing and we will continue to work.”
Guy Taylor, a spokesman for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, said rains had abated on Monday but the hard-hit Mozambique coastal city of Quelimane remained without access to clean running water.
Flooding affected parts of the city, he said.
“There’s a lot of damage,” Taylor said by phone. “In the more rural areas, many houses are completely destroyed.”
On Sunday, the Red Cross in Malawi tweeted video of the raging Thuchira River that triggered flooding nearby.
According to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, Freddy, which formed off northwestern Australia in the first week in February, was set to become the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record.
It crossed the entire southern Indian Ocean and blasted Madagascar starting February 21 before reaching Mozambique on February 24.
Following what meteorologists describe as a “rare” loop trajectory, Freddy then headed back toward Madagascar before moving once more toward Mozambique.
Upon its return it carried even stronger winds and rains, Taylor said.
In total, Freddy has so far killed at least 97 people — 66 in Malawi, 14 in Mozambique and 17 in Madagascar.
The last cyclones to cross the entire southern Indian Ocean were Tropical Cyclones Leon-Eline and Hudah in 2000.