By Emelia Sithole
MAPUTO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano on Wednesday appealed for urgent international aid to help more than 800,000 people victims of devastating floods and a cyclone.
Aid workers warned that cholera, malaria and meningitis were also on the way for hundreds of thousands driven to cramped refuge on high ground.
"We are facing a very tragic situation in this country because we had the heavy rains compounded by fierce floods due to rains in neighbouring countries," Chissano told Reuters.
"And we had a cyclone which hit the southern and central parts of the country. The damages are big. I do not have figures yet....but the needs are for the urgent alleviation of the situation," the president said at Maputo airport before flying to a regional summit in Zambia.
Cyclone Eline raged across the impoverished southern African country on Tuesday, capping two weeks of devastating floods.
The worst rains in 30 years left 200,000 people homeless in a country that suffered 16 years of civil war up to 1992.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi, speaking after Chissano, told Reuters the government estimated at least 150 people had died since the rains started in January.
Heavy downpours and gales cut a trail of destruction through food-producing regions. In some parts of the country power lines were uprooted and road links were cut off.
Foreign donors have begun sending emergency food and medical supplies, money, planes and helicopters to bring relief to thousands left stranded.
"The overcrowded conditions under which the displaced people now live pose a danger of an outbreak of epidemics which could affect at least 800,000 Mozambicans," Carlos Tiny of the World Health Organisation said in comments circulated by the United Nations.
Chissano applauded help received so far but said he urgently needed rubber dinghies to ferry people stranded by the floods, along with blankets, tents and food for the displaced.
"Besides that, for reconstruction we will need seeds and agricultural implements because, as soon as the water goes away, we will need to plough and plant again. These are all big needs."
Floodwaters covered vast tracts of farmland northeast of the capital, Maputo. To make matters worse, another cyclone, Felicia, is due in a few days' time.
Eline was expected to blow on to Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana, dumping more rain on regions which are just recovering from their most destructive storms for 50 years.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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