MAPUTO, March 7 (Reuters) - Too much, too late was the criticism levelled on Tuesday at countries now pouring aid into Mozambique, following charges that they had taken too long to help the flood-stricken nation.
South African pilots -- who with three Malawian helicopters were the first to begin rescuing Mozambicans stranded by weeks of flooding -- have now been joined by British, French, German and Spanish teams.
U.S. troops, bringing high-tech equipment to facilitate searches, also began arriving on Tuesday while the United Nations started flying emergency supplies from Uganda.
At Maputo's tiny international airport, there was barely space for the 50 helicopters and planes trying to deliver relief supplies to 950,000 people marooned by seas of mud.
"You know, it may sound ungrateful, but I think (the aid) came too late. We could have saved some more lives if we had this kind of support from the beginning," Graca Machel, former first lady of Mozambique and wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, told CNN.
"Everyone was aware of the human tragedy that has been happening there. Why so late?" she asked.
MAPUTO AIRPORT A 'CIRCUS'
The airport buzzed with hordes of Spanish, French, German and South African forces heaving pallets of food and supplies out of military transports.
Joining them on Monday were three planeloads of Libyan soldiers who turned up with heavy arms and scuba gear.
"There are too many (of them) and they are too late," said a Maputo-based European officer as he surveyed the chaos on the city's runway.
"But this competition is healthy because it means more help," he added.
But help was arriving faster than it could be distributed.
While countries around the world announced new shipments on the way, crates of food, including fresh eggs and medicine donated by well-wishers from Lesotho to Libya, spoiled in the sun on the airport apron.
Rubber boats with outboard motors still in crates lay stacked with nowhere to go because the flood waters had largely receded and the biggest problem now is mud.
"It is a bit of a circus," said one of the South African pilots, acclaimed for daring rescues of 12,000 people.
More than three weeks after South Africans began plucking people from trees and roofs as the Limpopo River rose 10 metres (33 feet) above its normal summer level, a huge U.S. relief effort began swinging into action.
Military and aid agency officials were privately frank about the fact that the major efforts now underway were triggered by television coverage of the flood disaster.
"It was that picture on television of scores of people running through the water, tripping and fighting, to get into a hovering helicopter that did it," said one European aid worker.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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