The death toll in Mozambique from Cyclone Idai exceeded 400 Saturday as aid and rescue efforts continued a week after the storm devastated parts of southern Africa, a government official said.
As aid groups, accompanied by South African and Indian militaries, flew over Mozambique to search for missing people, they struggled to assist tens of thousands on the ground.
Mozambique Minister of Land and Environment Celso Correia said the situation "is still critical, but it's getting better." He said 1,500 people were in need of rescue from rooftops and trees and about 89,000 people had packed into displacement camps.
Correia said 417 deaths had been confirmed in Mozambique, raising the combined death toll there and in neighboring Zimbabwe and southern Malawi to 676. Aid workers said that number would certainly rise as floodwaters continue to recede. Some 1.7 million people were affected by the storm, one of the most powerful to strike the region in decades.
As storm victims labored to salvage personal possessions they were able to find, many residents in the affected areas worried about their future and shortages of essentials such as food, water and medicine.
International aid efforts were being coordinated by the World Food Program, or WFP. The agency's southern Africa director, Lola Castro, told VOA on Friday that relief groups were confronted with a "humongous logistics challenge" to help victims who were "extremely stressed."
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Castro said problems were compounded by the fact that the stricken areas are located near the mouths of rivers. "Remember, these are deltas … and all these deltas are between salt- and freshwater." She said the tidal waves created by Idai might have salinized area waters, adding, "People are drinking this."
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, most of whom are still in need of shelter. The WHO has warned that squalid conditions could help lead to the spread of infectious diseases.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Friday that cases of cholera had been reported in Beira, Mozambique's fourth-largest city.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the U.N. and its humanitarian partners were "scaling up the response with the initial funding from generous donors." He said the U.N. had already released $20 million but added, "Far greater international support is needed."
The WFP's Castro said a "huge" humanitarian response was just the beginning. "The [Mozambique] government is going to need a lot of support on this, and the international community will have to look into a very long-term" humanitarian relief campaign, she said.