MAPUTO, March 4 (Reuters) - South Africa cleared diplomatic obstacles to U.S. and British relief efforts for flood-ravaged Mozambique on Saturday as weather forecasters warned that more heavy rain and strong winds were on the way.
"Both the British and the Americans have now been given permission to land in order to assist in relief efforts," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa told Reuters.
The British operation was stalled on Friday in a protocol row over access to a South African military air base close to the Mozambican border, which both countries wanted to use as a bridgehead.
A bigger U.S. airlift of helicopters, equipment and supplies was postponed until the row was resolved.
Supplies and equipment including boats began pouring into Maputo's small international airport on Saturday from Spain, France, Germany, Britain and the United States.
Reinforcements for the exhausted South African rescuers, who have plucked more than 12,000 survivors from roofs and trees since February 11, could arrive just in time to help Mozambique cope with fresh rains and high winds that could hit on Tuesday.
Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano said in a BBC television interview his country would need sustained assistance to cope with the flood and its aftermath.
"About $250 million is the minimum that we need," he said.
South African air force planes began delivering food to up to a million displaced Mozambicans on Saturday, shifting relief efforts from rescuing stranded flood victims to feeding them.
The British and U.S. planes are likely to search deeper into Mozambique than the South Africans have been able to do and aid workers in Maputo said no one knew what they might find.
South African Weather Bureau forecaster Ebert Scholtz said Cyclone Gloria, lying over the Indian Ocean east of Mozambique, was likely to miss the country, but that its passing could still bring heavy rains and strong winds.
"It's moving in a south-southeasterly direction at about 10-15 km an hour. At this stage we are not too sure it will move into the channel but it is going to cause an increase in wind speeds," Scholtz said.
He added, however, that normal summer weather patterns would bring heavy rain to parts of Mozambique from Sunday as well as to parts of South Africa that feed the Limpopo River, which has caused the worst of the damage in Mozambique.
Mozambique has not updated its official estimate of 150 dead for more than a week, but rescue workers say thousands may have perished in the muddy waters engulfing much of the country.
Officials said helicopters would continue to search for anyone who might still be stranded on high ground.
"We are going to sweep across the Limpopo valley and if we find any people we are going to rescue them," a South African military spokesman said.
MALAWIANS RESCUE STRANDED IN NORTH
In Mozambique's second city Beira, the head of Malawi's relief operation, Major Augustine Masamba, said his flight of two helicopters had managed to rescue 1,100 people and would switch to emergency aid delivery on Saturday.
He said water levels in the Save river, which had stranded thousands of people, were stabilising.
"The water in the Save is coming to a stable point. We are now concentrating on moving medicines, food supplies and sheltering material," he said.
Engineers at the Cabora Bassa dam in northwestern Mozambique said they were confident they could control a flow of water expected from neighbouring Zimbabwe without having to open the sluices and flood the lower Zambezi.
About 30 helicopters and aircraft have been racing against the exhaustion and hunger of people trapped for days by muddy floodwaters that have inundated much of Mozambique.
Televised images of helicopters flying daring missions to lift survivors away from the rising tide have spurred Britain, the United States, France, Germany and Spain to send helicopters and boats to Mozambique.
Mozambique officials have asked for more aid from donor nations, which have been criticised for their slow response to the impoverished nation's latest tragedy. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund said on Friday they would increase credits and accelerate payments to Mozambique.
Countries within southern African, where the recent flooding has killed at least 400 people and probably thousands more, have begun to co-ordinate their responses to the aftermath of the disaster, with the threat of killer diseases like cholera and malaria hanging over them.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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