Tens of thousands of people in the far north of Mozambique are bracing for violent flooding as torrential rain pushes up water levels, after the death and devastation wrought by Cyclone Kenneth.
The first floods have already been seen in some parts of Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, as well as in surrounding areas, lashed by heavy rain since daybreak, AFP journalists reported.
Fields on the outskirts of the city that had been lush green just a day earlier were now brown with floodwater.
“It’s been raining hard since Sunday morning,” said Deborah Nguyen, spokeswoman for the UN World Food Programme. “Violent flooding is expected in and around Pemba.
“We are very worried because, according to the forecasts, heavy rain is expected for the next four days,” she added.
“We expect the rainfall to be twice as much as that which accompanied Cyclone Idai that hit the city of Beira last month.”
Idai hit central Mozambique six weeks ago and communities in that region are still reeling from floods that swept away homes, roads and bridges, leaving around 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands without shelter.
This time, around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) further north, the city of Pemba and its 400,000 inhabitants face similar dangers.
“We are scared”
“Houses started to collapse in Natite neighbourhood, according to the rescue team operating there,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a tweet on Sunday.
“We are unfortunately expecting devastating floods as consequence of #CycloneKenneth’.”
According to figures provided by the Mozambique authorities to NGOs, around 200,000 people in Pemba are in danger.
In the small village of Mieze, around 20 kilometres to the south west, dozens of people gathered hoping to be rescued by boat.
“We are worried about the floods worsening because we don’t know where they will go,” Filomeno Sira, 45, whose home is one kilometre from the growing Mieze floodplain, told AFP.
“The government said we have to go to the top of the hill if the water continues to rise -— and we’ll go. We are scared because we don’t know.”
According to a preliminary toll published Sunday by the National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC), five people have died, more than 23,000 people are without shelter and nearly 35,000 homes have been either partly or completely destroyed.
A number of UN agencies have deployed response teams in Pemba.
To the north of the provincial capital, the town of Macomia was counting the cost of the damage on Sunday, with homes and businesses destroyed, roofs torn off, trees and electric pylons uprooted.
The World Food Programme has started distributing food rations to stranded people, but has been forced to suspend operations to the most isolated areas where roads have been cut off. A helicopter was expected to arrive in Pemba to resume operations as quickly as possible.
“We have grave fears for the thousands of families currently taking shelter under the wreckage of their homes. They urgently need food, water and shelter to survive the coming days,” said Nicholas Finney, head of Save the Children’s response team in Mozambique.
“We had information of the storm from the weather service but we didn’t realise the scale of the cyclone until it hit,” Macomia’s mayor, Fernando Neves, told AFP.
“As you can see we are now trying to rebuild our lives after this storm and return to normality… It’s very hard.”
In the town centre, medical staff were having to make do with what they had, with no electricity and no medicine.
“This patient has not eaten and we don’t have anti-malarials,” said Joaquim Benedito, a nurse at the Macomia Health Center, gesturing to Nordine Joao, a frail-looking 15-year-old malaria patient being treated in a supply cupboard.
“He was sleeping outside when the cyclone came.”
The region hit by Cyclone Kenneth is a lot more sparsely populated than Beira, which was hit by Cyclone Idai in mid-March.
Before smashing into Mozambique, Kenneth passed by the Comoros islands.