By Steven Swindells
MAPUTO, Mozambique (Reuters) - The known death toll from Mozambique's month-long floods leapt to almost 500 Monday as the waters receded and aid workers warned that the eventual number of victims would be much higher.
''Sadly, we should definitely expect the numbers of deaths to increase,'' said Rosa Malango, spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The Mozambique National Disaster Institute said 492 bodies had now been recovered -- the formal count from Mozambique's overstretched local authorities that was set to head higher.
Aid agencies fear the dead will number well into the thousands as more bodies are found and diseases such as malaria and cholera take hold in overcrowded refugee camps.
''I fear the death toll could be horrendously high...Lots of people who were swept away by the flooding are only now able to be recovered,'' said Kate Horne with Oxfam International.
Grace Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela and widow of Mozambique's late president Samora Machel, urged a meeting of agency workers Monday to hunt out still stranded communities.
''Machel gave a strong warning that we now needed to push further into the country and urgently bring supplies to these people,'' said one aid worker who attended the meeting.
Machel has been sharply critical of the slow international response to the devastating floods.
Wfp Appeals For Aid
With the focus beginning to shift away from day-to-day crisis relief, the U.N.-affiliated World Food Program (WFP) launched a $34 million appeal to see 650,000 Mozambicans who have lost homes and crops through the next half-year.
''About 55,000 tons of food is needed over the next six months,'' said WFP spokeswoman Lindsey Davies.
Some $4 million of the appeal will be used to mend damaged roads and $3 million will be given to the South African military to keep its helicopters operational until the end of March.
A dozen British, Spanish and South African helicopters again took to the skies from Maputo's tiny airport Monday to airlift food and medical supplies to the camps.
But aid agencies said some roads were now gradually being reopened -- a crucial help with more rain forecast.
''It's very good news for us. For the past week we have been restricted to helicopters which can only carry a limited amount ... The roads are a vital lifeline,'' Davies said.
A truck can carry around 15 tons of supplies, three times as much as a helicopter.
The South African Weather Bureau Monday forecast three more days of rain over inundated central and southern regions of Mozambique. It also forecast heavy rain around Beira, the second city, and Quelimane, northeast of Beira.
Donations to the relief effort have poured in from all over the world.
At a meeting with Mandela in Cape Town, Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO - news) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Douglas Daft said the company would donate $1.5 million to flood relief.
''This is a very generous offer that Coca-Cola has made without us requesting them and would also help motivate our own businessmen to do the same,'' Mandela told reporters.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet