250km/h wind hits flooded Mozambique

Johannesburg, South Africa. February 23 2000

Mozambique, already ravaged by floods, has been further devastated by Cyclone Eline.

By CHRIS MCGREAL in Johannesburg

Tropical cyclone Eline compounded Mozambique's misery after the worst floods in decades when it hit the port of Beira with winds of up to 250km/h yesterday.

As heavy rains and gales lashed the centre of the country, the United Nations warned that an outbreak of dysentery and other diseases brought on by the earlier flooding could now turn into a catastrophe.

The cyclone, which ripped roofs from homes and flattened traditional mud houses, follows torrential rains which swept much of Southern Africa in recent weeks, carrying away whole neighbourhoods and leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

More than 100 died in the flooding in Mozambique alone, some of them children. Roads and bridges were swept away, adding to the problems of coping with Eline.

The South African military has airlifted food by helicopter to communities near the capital, Maputo, because of flooded airstrips. But it had to suspend flights yesterday because of the weather.

Families in the Limpopo valley, north of Maputo, have little food and no drinking water, compounding the threat of cholera and diarrhoea. Floods also increase the incidence of malaria and, in some areas, have dislodged landmines left from the civil war which ended nine years ago.

The UN has called for emergency aid for 300 000 people. "We are talking at this stage of basic survival needs - food, shelter, clean water, sanitation and the infrastructure," said Katarina Toll Velasquez, leader of the UN emergency team.

"Then we are looking ahead at what is the biggest fear, the outbreak of health epidemics. We have been expecting health problems, and these have already started."

Britain has donated more than R5-million and sent a disaster management team to work with the government and aid agencies. Other European countries and the US have provided emergency equipment and food.

The Mozambican government says a further 500 000 people have been affected by the floods. It estimates the damage done by the floods alone at millions of rands.

The cyclone, which killed seven and left thousands homeless as it swept through the north of Madagascar on Friday, is expected to move on to Zimbabwe and South Africa, which have been devastated by some of the highest rainfalls in living memory. Both countries fear that the Limpopo river, their common border, could burst its banks.

South Africa closed the border with Botswana and abandoned the area yesterday. The chief immigration officer there, Anthony Wetener, said: "We initially thought we were safe but the water is steadily rising and will soon engulf the offices. We have decided to save what we can."

Large parts of Maputo's industrial suburb have been destroyed, and the railway to the port swept away, jeopardising the fastest economic growth rate in the world.

The weather has also hit Mozambique's burgeoning tourism industry, destroying facilities on the pristine coast.

-- The Guardian, February 23 2000.