By Francesca Iwambe
Rescuers struggled on Wednesday to reach survivors in Malawi's battered city of Blantyre, after Cyclone Freddy struck southern Africa for a second time, triggering floods and landslides that have killed more than 240 people across two countries.
Weather conditions were expected to improve as the storm dissipated over land after days of torrential rains, but localised thunderstorms would persist, and flood levels remained high in some areas, hampering emergency efforts.
“The death toll has risen from 190 to 225 with 707 injured and 41 reported missing,” the Malawi disaster management agency said.
Red Cross Malawi spokesman Felix Washon told AFP they have been hoisting people from trees and rooftops.
“It's a challenge to reach them, water is high, and bridges are broken.
Freddy returned to southeastern Africa at the weekend for a second time in less than three weeks, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction.
The authorities in neighbouring Mozambique have so far reported 21 deaths — and the toll there is expected to rise.
Pope Francis offered prayers for the Malawi cyclone victims, during his weekly audience at St Peter's Square.
“I pray for the dead, the injured, the displaced. May the Lord support the families and the communities hardest hit by this calamity,” he said.
Rescue workers in Malawi also warned that more victims were to be expected as they scoured destroyed neighbourhoods for survivors, even as hopes dwindled.
“Four people from my family are still missing as they are buried in the mud,” Alabu Wiseman, 24, said from a Blantyre school serving as a temporary shelter.
The army and police were leading search and rescue operations, which the Red Cross said would continue for at least another two days.
Many people perished in mudslides that washed away homes in and around the country's commercial capital, Blantyre.
Across Malawi, more than 88,000 people displaced, with many now sheltering in 165 temporary camps.
Authorities counted at least a dozen clinics now rendered inaccessible due to floods or damaged roads.
The impoverished country is already grappling with the deadliest cholera outbreak in its history, which has killed over 1,600 people since last year.
On Wednesday, Blantyre markets and shops were re-opening.