Desperation in Malawi as Cyclone Freddy destroys homes and lives

BLANTYRE (Reuters) – Residents of Chilobwe township in Blantyre, one of the areas hardest hit by Tropical Cyclone Freddy, were awakened in the early hours by the roaring sound of mud and water as Malawi was battered by the storm that a second shot on the south did. Africa.

As of Tuesday afternoon, authorities had counted 190 dead in Malawi, with hundreds injured and missing. The official death toll in neighboring Mozambique stood at 20.

Many of the dead were killed by mudslides in hilly Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city. Torrential rain swept away thousands of homes and uprooted trees, leaving residents to stare in disbelief at the huge ravines in the roads and scramble over makeshift bridges as the rain continued.

Bodies continued to be pulled from the devastation.

Some residents had lucky escapes.

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Local resident Robert Campbell opened his door when he heard a child screaming for help and mud poured in.

“The girl was stuck in the mud at the edge of the stream when some neighbors managed to reach her,” he told Reuters as he stood inside his house where mud blocked the windows and covered the floor.

The unidentified girl was covered in mud up to her head when neighbors found her, said another local resident, Aaron Ntambo.

“Although the water was very strong, we managed to cross and rescue her. It was very difficult, but we managed to pull her out,” he said.

Freddy, one of the longest-lasting and strongest tropical storms on record, left a trail of destruction after circling the region for the second time last weekend since it first made landfall last month.

Aina Pigoti, 64, and her seven children escaped the gulf and sought shelter at a relative’s home after their home in Mbayani township was destroyed.

“We just saw a big wave of water and we ran away. When we came back, all our goods were swept away and the house collapsed,” said Pigoti.

The extent of damage and loss of life is still unknown as search and rescue operations continue.

Nearly 60,000 people have been affected, with about 19,000 displaced from their homes, according to the Malawi government.

For 76-year-old James Davison, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

A retired bricklayer from Blantyre who once helped build the leafy hilltop mansion of Malawi’s first president is now penniless after his property was destroyed by the cyclone.

“I lost six houses that I rented out. They were my retirement package and all I had,” he said.

For others, the destruction goes beyond property.

Huddled under umbrellas outside a mortuary in Blantyre, grief-stricken families waited to identify loved ones.

Volunteers at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital mortuary braved the rain as they loaded the victims onto stretchers.

“The corpses come and come. We receive 10 or more at a time. To me, this is overwhelming,” said Erik Ntemba, a mortuary clerk in front of a pile of coffins.

(Reporting by Frank Phiri and Eldson Chagara; Written by Bhargav Acharya; Edited by Nellie Peyton and Alison Williams)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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