Torrential storms kill 50 in Mozambique

Johannesburg, South Africa. February 10 2000

The entire Southern African region has been deluged by the heaviest rains in half a century.

By PAUL FAUVET in Maputo

South Africa began sending emergency relief by air yesterday to Mozambique, where floods have swollen rivers, isolated cities and left 100 000 people homeless.

More than 50 people have drowned across Southern Africa and tens of thousands of acres of farmland has been washed away after rivers burst their banks. Torrential rain has fallen in the region continuously since the weekend.

In South Africa, the National Parks Board closed swamped rest camps in the Kruger National Park. More than 430mm of rain has fallen in the past four days there.

"There is no way to reach the north of the park from the south inside the park," said its chief warden, Antoinette van Wyk. Parts of Johannesburg have also been severely affected.

In Botswana, dams are overflowing and huts in villages disintegrating.

The Mozambican capital Maputo, with a population of a million, was cut off by the rising waters and entry to the city was said to be impossible.

South African officials said helicopters and boats were plucking people left clinging on to trees, stranded on rooftops and even standing waist-deep on top of agricultural machines.

Mozambique's president, Joaquim Chissano, said yesterday that his government would appeal to the international community for assistance.

Many people are missing and the final death toll is expected to rise sharply. Vast areas of Maputo and nearby Matola have been turned into swamps and health authorities have warned of outbreaks of malaria and cholera.

A water treatment station has broken down, making clean water scarce in Maputo, and pumping stations in other areas have been swept away. At least 32 000 acres of crops in southern Mozambique have been lost to floods, said Armindo Chivangue, an official of the natural disasters management institute.

No emergency food supplies were needed, Chivangue said, but farmers would need fresh supplies of maize, bean and vegetable seeds after the floods.

The Norwegian prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, in Mozambique on an official visit, announced yesterday that Norway would make R600 000 available to help the flood victims.

The country's main north-south highway, which had been impassable because of flooding for five days, was provisionally repaired yesterday.

Many of the homeless were sheltering in schools, community halls and on sports fields.

Forecasters warned that the low pressure weather system was moving towards South Africa's Free State and North West provinces. The rains have been described as the heaviest since 1958. Some rivers are at their highest for 50 years.

More than 100 foreign tourists have been stranded in luxury South African game reserves between Mpumalanga and the Northern Province.

-- The Guardian, February 10 2000.