March 18 (UPI) — Cyclone Idai has killed at least 70 people in eastern Zimbabwe but the death toll is expected to rise as some of the worst affected areas have been inaccessible to rescuers, authorities said.
Bridges, roads and homes have been destroyed in the wake of the tropical storm as it moved west across southeastern Africa this weekend with winds of over 100 miles per hour, Zimbabwe’s the Herald reported.
The cyclone made landfall Thursday in Mozambique, killing at least 48 people before moving into Zimbabwe on Friday.
The districts of Chimanimani and Chipinge appear to be the worst affected as thousands have been left homeless after their mud houses became destroyed, the Standard reported.
Among the dead are two St. Charles Lwanga Secondary School students who died in their sleep after rocks falling down a nearby mountain caused a wall of their dormitory to collapse.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared a state of emergency, deploying the military to affected areas.
Information ministry secretary Nick Mangwawa said the government has deployed the army and air force as well as private and public ambulances in the rescue effort.
“The challenges are that a number of bridges were swept away and rivers are flooded and it is very difficult to access the hardest hit area, which is Chimanimani East,” Mangwawa said, adding that air support has been hindered by strong winds.
Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Cde July Moyo said that a command center had been set up in Harare to monitor the situation and that resources have come in from all over.
“The mobilization of resources is receiving a positive response. So far we have obtained $10,000 and 10,000 liters of diesel from well-wishers towards this disaster,” he said, adding that the government will provide $1,000 to each bereaved family.
Zimbabwe councilor of Harare Ward 17 Jacon Mafume on Saturday called the situation a “serious humanitarian crisis.”
“We need state intervention on a massive scale to avoid biblical disaster,” he tweeted. “Homes, bridges being washed away. Lives in danger.”
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimated Saturday that over a million people have been affected by the storm, including tens of thousands of people who have been displaced.
The world’s largest humanitarian network said it had released about $340,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the local Red Cross in advance of the tropical storm making landfall in Africa.
However, the forecast of more rain on Monday for Zimbabwe and the degree of destruction to infrastructure, the rescue effort may continue to be hindered.
“It is risky to access most of the areas because of the mudslides and people need food and clean water,” Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Dr. Sekai Nzenza said. “Most of the people who died were affected by mudslides and the ferocious water. Some of them were trapped by falling stones and trees and our challenge is to give them a decent burial.”
The Zimbabwe Red Cross has said on Facebook that those affected by Cyclone Idai are in immediate need of clothing, shoes, sanitary items, food, blankets and psychosocial support, among a list of other items and services.