Botswana + 1 more

Southern Africa Braces for More Flood Chaos

By Emelia Sithole

MAPUTO (Reuters) - Aid workers braced for more chaos across southern Africa on Friday and governments appealed for urgent international aid as more rain recharged swollen rivers and floods cut the main road between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Torrential rain in the past few weeks has caused devastating floods across southern Africa, killing more than 200 people and destroying the homes of around half a million more. Water-borne diseases now threaten hundreds of thousands.

''We expect a big wave of water to hit the Gaza province (in Mozambique) tomorrow,'' Nicholas Lamade, a coordinator with the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) told Reuters on Friday.

Lamade said WFP had grounded its fleet of five South African helicopters and three light planes for service in anticipation of further chaos on Saturday and Sunday when the rising Limpopo River is expected to burst banks in Gaza region.

In South Africa, state radio reported that road traffic between the country and Zimbabwe came to a standstill on Friday when the main bridge between the two countries was flooded.

It said Beit Bridge, Africa's busiest border post on the main artery between South Africa and central Africa, was under water after the Limpopo River burst its banks on Thursday night.

In Harare, long queues formed at filling stations with drivers waiting up to a day for a quarter tank of fuel.

Hundreds Left Stranded

Hundreds of trucks and people were left stranded on both sides of the border. Zimbabwe is South Africa's biggest trading partner, with Pretoria's exports to Harare running at over $800 million a year.

Zimbabwe has appealed for international help and declared three provinces most affected by the rains as disaster areas.

Floods there have swept away roads, bridges, dams and powerlines and left an estimated 250,000 people without shelter.

Botswana, where rains have already washed away 10,000 homes, issued an alert on Friday warning of a new cyclone and the government appealed for urgent help to deal with the crisis. Some 34,000 people urgently need food and shelter.

Provisional government estimates put the cost at $8.5 million in damaged infrastructure across the country.

''I have received reports that a cyclone is expected to strike over the eastern parts of southern Africa over the next few days and this may worsen the rainfall and flooding situation in Botswana,'' President Festus Mogae said in a radio broadcast.

''The problem has assumed near nationwide crisis proportions,'' the president added.

Rivers in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe burst their banks as Cyclone Eline swept west from Mozambique, bringing new rains to lands left waterlogged by more than two weeks of storms.

Worst hit is Mozambique, one of Africa's poorest countries, where the government has appealed for over $60 million to cover damages and repair infrastructure.

Renewed flooding across northern parts of South Africa has killed at least 12 people, South African police said, taking the toll to more than 55 this month.

More rain fell on Friday, bursting river banks, swamping parts of the country's main highway and bringing misery to thousands in the agricultural region.

The South African Weather Bureau warned of more rain over the weekend in northern parts of the country.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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