MAPUTO (Reuters) - Aid agencies waited for a break in the weather on Friday to resume aid deliveries to a quarter of a million displaced people in flood-ravaged Mozambique.
Uncertainty meanwhile clouded the fate of some 20,000 people said by the United Nations to be stranded in the west of the country but whose reported sighting was denied by the commander of the U.S. Task Force in Mozambique.
Major-General Joseph Werhle denied that his aircraft, a high-tech C-130 aerial surveillance craft, had spotted the 20,000 people stranded near the town of Mbalalane, 220 miles northwest of the capital Maputo.
''I must categorically state that we did not see or detect any such movements. I do not know where this confusion is coming from,'' Werhle told Reuters.
After a day of furious rains and heavy cloud forced a multinational force to suspend aid deliveries to 250,000 people left homeless by floods, Rosa Malango of the U.N. Humanitarian Office said: ''We pray for good weather.''
''We hope Friday will be dry although the weather forecasts points to the opposite,'' said Brenda Barton, spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program (WFP).
Barton said the rains had complicated relief efforts and forced aid agencies to prioritize shelter ahead of food and medical supplies.
''It is now not just food and medicines we have to worry about. We must provide shelter as a matter of urgency,'' she said.
Bureau Forecasts Further Rains
The Weather Bureau and government officials in Mozambique said heavy rains and cloud cover would continue to Sunday, bringing more misery and grief to those displaced and affected by three weeks of floods and Cyclone Eline.
In the village of Chaqualane, north of Maputo, a Reuters photographer saw thousands of displaced people, mainly women and children, cuddle with their belongings as rains brought further chaos.
In a nearby makeshift clinic, aid workers struggled to treat cholera and malaria cases. Many of the displaced were without food or water while those considered lucky drank water contaminated with impurities.
In the continued uncertainty over the 20,000 reported stranded victims, the United Nations said a plane, which aborted flying on Thursday, would be sent on a reconnaissance mission to try to verify the earlier report.
The plane twice tried to fly on Thursday but could not go because of the bad weather. ''We are very keen to verify the situation of the 20,000,'' Malango told Reuters.
Asked if he will be willing to help a U.N. mission verify the status of the so-called 20,000, Werhle replied: ''I will do whatever we are tasked by the aid agencies, non-governmental organizations and the government.''
Government officials said fresh rains had knocked down telecommunication links in central and southern Mozambique and aid agency officials said they feared rivers that had started receding would rise again.
In New York, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed deep concern at serious flooding in Madagascar caused by Cyclone Gloria and said he hoped relief donors would contribute generously.
He said preliminary reports indicated that 560,000 people are affected, with 10,000 homeless and an additional 12,000 out of reach.
In Mozambique, the government says 1.9 million people have been directly and indirectly affected by the floods. The official death toll so far stands at 212. But aid workers warn that the discovery of more corpses as water recedes and other people being affected by disease, such as malaria and cholera, will push the death toll much higher.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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