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Zimbabwe President Visits Cyclone-Hit Area, Death Toll Expected To Rise


Zimbabwean soldiers busy assisting some of the people affected by Tropical Cyclone Idai.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa visited the country’ flooded Chimanimani area on Tuesday after cyclone winds and floods swept across southeastern Africa affecting more than 2.6 million people.

United Nations officials said Cyclone Idai could rank as one of the worst weather-related disasters recorded in the southern hemisphere.

Mnangwagwa said his government is in the process of assessing damage to provide adequate assistance.

"I have come in order to visit families, communities, as well as the infrastructure I am briefed has been destroyed so we can assess and determine what the government can do in terms of assistance. We need to make sure we understand the quantum of devastation in order for us to mobilize resources to deal with the situation as it stands,” he told reporters.

The European Union announced on Tuesday an initial emergency aid package of 3.5 million euros ($3.97 million) to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe for logistical support to reach affected people, emergency shelters, hygiene, sanitation and health care. Britain also pledged up to six-million pounds ($7.96 million) in aid.

Mnangagwa added that several African countries have also pledged support, as well as the United Arab Emirates where he recently visited.

“Countries like South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Angola have indicated that they also want to know what our needs are, and we are busy now compiling materials which we think they could assist us with," he said.

The Zimbabwe government puts the number of people killed by the cyclone at 98, but with many badly injured and others still missing, the number is expected to rise to as high as 300, according to the country’s Permanent Secretary of Information, Nick Mangwana.

“We gave a figure of 98 of our compatriots deceased. We expect that figure to rise because we hear reports that there are bodies that have been detected in this place and that place. What we simply need to establish now is whether those bodies are Zimbabweans or not, or they are from the neighboring countries such as Mozambique. Once we have established that, then we can actually give a clear figure of how many of our people we have lost. But it’s possible it’s northward of 300,” said Mangwana.

Accessing the hardest hit areas in Manicaland like Chipinge and Chimanimani, as well as Masvingo Province to assist those in need, have been until recently, almost impossible due to the cyclone’s destruction of roads, bridges and telecommunication lines.

Mangwana, however, said the situation has greatly improved with the help of the military which created temporary pathways.

“Makeshift roads are being made, some detours are being made as well so that we can access the areas that were previously impassable. That has been a lot of progress, because what we had was a situation where aid was on one side, the needs were on the other side, and to now bridge that divide between the aid itself, the trucks full of aid and supplies and where the people were was an issue. Its still an issue but some aid is going now through these makeshift roads.”

Mangwana said aid has been pouring in from all corners of the country, including from corporations and private citizens who have contributed by mobilizing donations, including cash, food and clothes to help thousands of families whose homes were wrecked by the cyclone.

“Some goodwill also from Zimbabweans. Some have hired helicopters actually, some private helicopters that have been hired by Zimbabweans who prefer to remain anonymous, those ones are also supporting the issue of ferrying aid to where it’s needed and moreso medical supplies, primarily medical supplies,” he said.

While the cyclone knocked down power lines, and destroyed the Beira Corridor that linked Zimbabwe to Mozambique for the traders bringing in food and other supplies, Energy Minister Joram Gumbo said fuel was still available, and that there was no need to panic.

Drone footage shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in the settlement of Praia Nova, which sits on the edge of Beira, Mozambique, March 18, 2019
Drone footage shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in the settlement of Praia Nova, which sits on the edge of Beira, Mozambique, March 18, 2019

“We get our fuel from the pipeline which has not been affected by the cyclone,” said Gumbo. “The road from Mutare to Beira, particularly on the Mozambican side is the section that have been very badly damaged and that i think will take some time for our counterparts to repair, and that will affect those companies that have been collecting fuel using the roads. But mostly, most of the companies have been collecting their fuel from Zimbabwe at our depots in Mabvuku and Masasa, so they are not affected,” he assured.

Zimbabwe opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change, visited the cyclone-hit area Monday, and also contributed supplies such as clothing and food.

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