World

Canada announces $3.5M in cyclone aid funds as tens of thousands in southern Africa need help

A second week has begun of efforts to find and help tens of thousands of people after Cyclone Idai devastated parts of southern Africa.

At least 417 people dead in Mozambique alone after cyclone hit, government official says

Family members of Sumba Mufusho, who died after surviving for two days sheltering in a tree in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, grieve after collecting her body at a morgue, in Beira, Mozambique on Saturday. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

A second week has begun of efforts to find and help tens of thousands of people after Cyclone Idai devastated parts of southern Africa.

Members of the Indian and South African militaries are joining aid groups in flying over stretches of central Mozambique as they look for signs of life and people in need.

As of Saturday, at least 732 people have died in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi because of storm, and the number was expected to rise as floodwaters recede, government and United Nations officials said.

The death toll in hardest-hit Mozambique has risen to 417, a government official said, adding the situation remains critical. The number of people displaced is estimated to be around 600,000, with 17,400 homes damaged or destroyed. 

The shattered Mozambican city of Beira and other communities are now home to crowded displacement camps, both organized and informal. With communications badly affected by the cyclone and some families separated in the chaos, a program aimed at reunification is now underway.

Children carry drinking water over debris created by Cyclone Idai at Peacock Growth Point in Chimanimani, on the border with Mozambique in Zimbabwe on Friday. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

"Every day we discover that the destruction left by Cyclone Idai is worse than we imagined," Hicham Mandoudi, the International Committee of the Red Cross's head of sub-delegation in Beira, said in a statement.

"We are deeply concerned about remote communities that are cut-off by flooding and landslides and are yet to receive any humanitarian assistance. More rain is expected to come, which will compound the suffering of people who have already lost everything."

Mozambique's government has formally requested assistance from the international community, the UN humanitarian office said, opening the door to further aid efforts.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday appealed for stepped up support for victims of Idai, saying the UN and its humanitarian partners are scaling up the response but "far greater international support is needed."

A World Vision worker describes the devastation on the ground:

Shelby Stapleton, a World Vision aid worker in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, who is helping with aid efforts in the cyclone-stricken area, describes the devastation she has seen on the ground. 0:59

The UN chief said in a statement that "with crops destroyed in the breadbasket of Mozambique more people are at risk of food insecurity in all three countries."

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said "the situation will get worse before it gets better," adding there is concern that flooding, overcrowding at shelters and insufficient resources are putting people at increased risk of contracting diseases such as cholera and malaria.

Fore said in a statement that UNICEF teams are on the ground but that their resources are "overstretched," and echoed the call for support from the international community.

The Canadian government announced on Saturday it will provide initial funding of up to $3.5 million in emergency assistance to support humanitarian organizations responding to the disaster. Canada will also be donating relief supplies, including tarpaulins, shelter kits, mosquito nets and blankets.

Beira, the city at the centre of aid efforts for Mozambique, still can only be reached by land or sea. Local fishermen have joined the rescue efforts, ferrying stranded people about 50 or so at a time to the city's beach or port.

With cellphone communications struggling to return, some residents have lined an overpass known for having a better chance of receiving a signal.

Flooded buildings are seen in Beira, Mozambique. An estimated 17,400 homes in the country were damaged or destroyed because of Cyclone Idai, which began sweeping over Mozambique on the night of March 14. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters )

Prices of food and other basic items are doubling, even tripling. People wait in line outside stores, let in one by one in an effort to prevent looting.

Throughout the region, emergency air efforts focus on spotting stranded people and communities in the hope of dropping aid or plucking those in dire need to safety.

There are signs of life in the inundated landscape, even smoke from some cooking fires.

As waters recede, however, aid workers expect the death toll to rise as bodies are found.

With water and sanitation systems largely destroyed, waterborne diseases are also a growing concern.

This map shows the extent of the flooding on Thursday. Rescue efforts continued Friday, as teams try to determine how many people are in need of help.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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