Cyclone Freddy survivors dig with bare hands for victims as death toll reaches 326
By Charles Pensulo, Nimi Princewill and Stephanie Busari, CNN
Tropical Cyclone Freddy has killed at least 326 people after it ripped through southern Malawi, the country’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs told CNN Thursday.
The resulting devastation has left survivors trapped and fighting for survival.
Chilobwe, one of the hardest-hit areas, is a township near the city of Blantyre. Located below a hill, the township saw water gushing down from above on Sunday night.
Authorities say over 30 people from the area have died and dozens remain missing as search and rescue efforts continue.
People could be seen on Monday using shovels, even bare hands, to search for the people in the rubble.
‘Everything is gone’
Dorothy Wachepa, 39, was sleeping when she woke up to a deafening noise “resembling the sound of an airplane.”
“It was around 12 and I heard the sound accompanied by shouting from people upland,” the mother of four told CNN.
What followed was a torrent of muddy water, accompanied by rocks and trees, sliding down the mountain. All her possessions were washed away.
“Everything is gone. I was doing a small-scale business selling vegetables because my husband died in 2014. I’ve been supporting the children from the little that I have,” she added.
Wachepa said she and her children were lucky to make it out of the house alive.
A total of nine people, including Wachepa’s neighbor and a number of local children, died in the cyclone-induced rains, she told CNN.
Wachepa is one of dozens of people seeking shelter at a local church. She has been left with only a sheet to cover herself and her children from the windy and cold nights.
“We’ve received some blankets and plastic sheets today, so hopefully tonight we will manage to sleep,” Wachepa said.
‘I don’t know what to do now’
Sarah Chinangwa, 25, could not hide her tears as she recounted how six of her loved ones were killed on Sunday night.
“My brother and his two children were asleep when the water came. I live close to them, and I tried to shout for them to come out,” she said.
“They came out and stood at a rock which was at a higher place, but moments later they were all washed away,” she said, adding that her own house was destroyed. “I don’t know what to do now.”
The Malawi Ministry of Natural Resources and Climate Change said Tuesday that the cyclone was “weakening but will continue to cause torrential rains associated with windy conditions in most parts of Southern Malawi districts.”
“The threat of heavy flooding and damaging winds remains very high,” the report added.
Charles Kalemba, a commissioner for the Department of Disaster Management Affairs agency, told CNN Tuesday that the situation had worsened in southern Malawi.
“It’s worse today. A number of places are flooding and a number of roads and bridges are cut. Visibility is almost zero. Electricity is off and also network is a problem. It’s becoming more and more dire,” Kalemba said, adding that rescue operations have also been affected by poor weather.
“It’s tough. We need to use machinery (for rescue operations) but machines cannot go to places where they were supposed to excavate because of the rains,” Kalemba added.
Malawi’s Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services warned Monday that “the threat of damaging winds and heavy flooding remains very high.”
Kalemba added that an improvement in weather was expected from Wednesday. “Possibly by tomorrow, the cyclone may have passed. We are hoping to see improvement from tomorrow but today is worse. There are heavy rains and lots of water.”
In Mozambique, at least 10 people were killed and 13 injured in the Zambezia province, according to state broadcaster Radio Mozambique, citing the National Institute of Disaster Risk Management.
The deadly cyclone has broken records for the longest-lasting storm of its kind after making landfall in Mozambique for a second time, more than two weeks after the first.
More than 22,000 people have been displaced by the tropical storm, according to Radio Mozambique.
“It’s quite likely that number will go up,” Guy Taylor, chief of advocacy, communications and partnerships for UNICEF in Mozambique, told CNN Tuesday.
“The size or the strength of the storm was much higher than the last time … the impact in terms of damage and the impact on people’s lives has been more substantial,” he said.
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Larry Madowo, Bethlehem Feleke and Jessie Gretener contributed to this report