Foreign Troops, Planes, Aid Blanket Mozambique

By Emma Thomasson

MAPUTO (Reuters) - Foreign aircraft, troops and aid workers swarmed across flood-ravaged Mozambique Monday as forecasters predicted more heavy rain as receding rivers were offering up corpses by the dozen.

At least 37 helicopters and 12 fixed-wing aircraft criss-crossed the country delivering food, water and medical supplies to refugee camps and communities isolated by the aftermath of the country's worst flood on record.

The South African Weather Bureau said Monday a tropical cyclone had waned, but warned that heavy rain exceeding two inches per 24 hours could develop overnight and Tuesday, especially in the hardest-hit south.

''We are told that rains are continuing and this may lead some rivers to swell again and cause problems for those who are trying to move back to their homes,'' Foreign Minister Leonardo Simao told a disaster management briefing.

The Limpopo River, which reached a record depth of over 36 feet last week, was now seven meters deep and was expected to continue falling, depending on the amount of rain to come.

''As the waters are receding, a problem is coming up. Corpses are exposed and carcasses of animals, which are a real threat to health,'' Simao said. ''I am told we need more plastic bags, particularly for more human corpses.''

Aid workers said 1,000 body bags had already arrived.

Simao said the official death toll was still pegged at 150, where it was set more than a week ago, but he added the figure would multiply many times as the waters subsided.

He said 146 bodies were discovered at the weekend in just two affected areas.

Better Coordination Needed

Simao said the government's main concern was to improve coordination between dozens of aid organizations and the South African, British, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Libyan military, who have arrived to help the rescue operation.

During the morning Britain added another two Puma helicopters to its fleet, Spain sent six from Pretoria, Germany raised its contingent from three to seven and a giant U.S. C-5 transport headed for the region with six helicopters, taking the total chopper fleet to around 50.

Coordination of these disparate forces was initially a problem, but aid workers said it had improved after the operations were split up by region.

Maputo's dilapidated airport was busier than ever in its history, with air traffic controllers battling to control the skies without the aid of radar or computer equipment.

Dozens of crates of cargo lay waiting for delivery, including malaria tablets from Zambia, water purification systems from France, mattresses and diving gear from Libya and tinned peas from Egypt.

Helicopters that have pulled more than 3,000 people from roofs and treetops over the past week shifted their attention this weekend to delivering food and medicine.

''Thanks to the increase in air capacity and coordination, 100 tons of food will be distributed nationwide, meeting the needs of 250,000 people in camps,'' said Georgia Shaver from the U.N. World Food Program (WFP).

While aid organizations are concentrating their efforts on feeding a quarter of a million refugees in 64 camps across the country, some communities are still stranded on narrow strips of land, while other people have started wading through thick mud back to homes and fields destroyed by floodwaters.

Help finally arrived to the marooned community of Magude on Monday three days after the last food ran out. More than 9,000 people had fled from lower-lying lands to Magude's higher ground in recent weeks.

''Some of the children here have not had anything to eat for two or three days until these supplies arrived. It's very serious. We need food most of all,'' said school teacher Alberto Marcoa as helicopters delivered bags of rice and maize meal.

Shaver said the WFP was working hard to restore key roads and bridges so aid could be delivered more quickly and cheaply by truck and rail, but helicopters would still be needed for the next few weeks to move supplies and people.

Critics have accused the international community of dragging its feet in coming to Mozambique. However WFP spokeswoman Lindsey Davies said the battle had only just begun as the danger of drowning was replaced by the potential horrors of disease.

''It's not too little too late. Now we have rescued people, the next stage is emerging. People are extremely weak, they are traumatized and exhausted. We've go to support them while the water goes down,'' she said.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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