HARARE, March 18 (Reuters) – At least 89 people have died in Zimbabwe after Cyclone Idai tore across the eastern and southern parts of the country, a government official said on Monday, creating a humanitarian crisis in a nation grappling with economic woes and a drought.
The scale of destruction is only becoming apparent as rescuers reach the most affected areas, near the border with Mozambique.
Chimanimani district has been cut off from the rest of the country by torrential rains and winds of up to 170 km per hour that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.
“The number of confirmed deaths throughout the country is now 89,” Nick Mangwana, the secretary for ministry of information told Reuters via a text message.
Local officials say the body count is expected to rise.
The United Nations says more than 100 people have died in weeks of heavy rain and flooding in Mozambique and Malawi, where villages were left underwater.
Rescuers are struggling to reach people in Chimanimani, many of whom have been sleeping in the mountains since Friday, after their homes were flattened by rock falls and mudslides or washed away by torrential rains. Many families cannot bury the dead due to the floods.
The government has declared a state of disaster in areas affected by the storm, the worst to hit the country since Cyclone Eline devastated eastern and southern Zimbabwe in 2000.
The country of 15 million people is already suffering a severe drought that has wilted crops. A United Nations humanitarian agency says 5.3 million people will require food aid.