MAPUTO, Mozambique (Reuters) - A multinational force of helicopters and boats spread across Mozambique Tuesday under the threat of more rain in a race to deliver badly needed food and medicine to the stricken country.
Foreign military officials said up to 50 helicopters would be in the skies and 100 boats would be deployed early Tuesday.
The numbers would increase as more contingents from the United States, Asia, and more African nations including Egypt arrive in the southern African country to help it deal with the aftermath of its worst floods in living memory.
As many as 900 U.S. military personnel were due to arrive in Mozambique Tuesday to join the operation.
The American task force will include six C-130 military cargo planes to deliver relief supplies and six heavy-lift helicopters.
The U.S. contingent is coming as part of two teams -- a joint special operations task force with search-and-rescue capability and another assigned to deliver supplies and try to stem the spread of disease.
South Africa, Britain, the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Spain, Libya, Lesotho, Malawi and Zambia all have teams in the country, where a million people have been affected by the floods, and where officials warned more heavy rain could reverse rescue gains achieved so far.
United Nations officials said Tropical Cyclone Gloria has waned, but warned that heavy rain exceeding two inches per day could develop Tuesday and Wednesday, especially in the hardest-hit southern region.
''We are concerned about the weather. Rainfall of up to or above 50 mm (two inches) could seriously affect rivers. The only good news is that this time round, we are better resourced to deal with another flooding disaster,'' Ross Mountain, the U.N. special envoy, told reporters.
The World Food Program (WFP) said it was urging Mozambicans in the flood areas not to return home yet.
''We are appealing to people not to move back to their homes but to wait and see what happens with the weather in the next few days,'' WFP spokeswoman Brenda Barton said.
Weather Bureau officials in Mozambique said rains in neighboring Zimbabwe and South Africa posed the greatest danger to Mozambique and its Limpopo River, which reached record depths last week.
As the country struggled to recover from the disaster, western donors announced a fresh combined pledge of $78 million to help rebuild shattered infrastructure.
President Joaquim Chissano asked the West Sunday to write off his nation's existing $8.3 billion external debt and provide aid totaling $250 million.
On Tuesday, the massive relief operation also will include the search for more bodies being yielded by the receding rivers.
In the remote town of Chokwe, the hardest-hit area north of Maputo, aid workers reported an overwhelming smell of death, prompting a stepped-up effort to deliver body bags to the former Portuguese colony. Donors delivered 1,000 body bags Monday.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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