BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — After killing hundreds and displacing thousands as it barreled through Mozambique and Malawi since late last week, Cyclone Freddy is set to move away from land later on Wednesday which should bring some relief to southern African regions that have been ravaged by its torrential rain and powerful winds.
The cyclone has killed at least 225 people in Malawi’s southern region including Blantyre, the country’s financial hub, according to local authorities. Another 88,000 people are displaced. In neighboring Mozambique, officials say at least 20 people have died since the storm made landfall in the port town of Quelimane on Saturday night. Over 45,000 people are still holed up in shelters, with about 1,300 square kilometers (800 square miles) still under water, according to the EU’s Copernicus satellite system.
“There are many casualties — either wounded, missing, or dead and the numbers will only increase in the coming days,” said Guilherme Botelho, the emergency project coordinator in Blantyre for Doctors Without Borders. 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.”
The aid organization has suspended its outreach programs to protect its staff against flash floods and landslides but is supporting cyclone relief efforts at a local hospital.
Even with the cyclone soon to leave land, “the emergency will not be over for many communities as rain from upland areas continues to flood downstream areas over the coming days,” said Lucy Mwangi, the country director for Malawi at the aid organization Concern Worldwide.
A regional cyclone monitoring center on the island of Réunion projects that Freddy will move back out to sea by late Wednesday. 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 damage is 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 4% 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 pummeled Mozambique as well as the islands of Madagascar and Réunion last month as it traversed the Indian Ocean.
“Freddy is quite an exceptional weather phenomenon,” Anne-Claire Fontan, a tropical cyclone scientific officer at the World Meteorological Organization told The Associated Press. Its longevity, distance covered, the number of times it has intensified and the amount of energy it accumulated over time has been extraordinary, she said.
She added that its second landfall in Mozambique “is explained by the presence of two competing steering influences. It is not rare.”
Freddy first developed near Australia in early February. The U.N.’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.
Alexandre Nhampossa and Tom Gould contributed to this report from Maputo, Mozambique. Kabukuru reported from Mombasa, Kenya.
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