MAPUTO: Flooding in Mozambique has killed at least 17 people and displaced tens of thousands more, according to United Nations figures, with a fresh storm surge feared Friday.
Severe flooding continues to spread across the south of the country, with the Mozambique government and international agencies rushing to ease the humanitarian disaster.
The floods are a result of week-long torrential rains in South Africa and Zimbabwe that swelled the Limpopo river forcing an orange alert on January 12, when the toll began.
But the full impact of the rains are only now being felt.
An AFP reporter on the scene saw thousands of residents who fled their homes stuck in on road sides leading out of devastated towns, surviving on scarce aid and in some cases forced to eat grasshoppers.
Their plight was only expected to worsen as further intense rains were expected over the weekend, spreading more chaos.
In the tourist coastal city of Xai-Xai, spared until Friday, up to eight meters of water was expected to hit.
“The water is coming into the city. It is just starting. Some roads in the lower part of town are under water,” said government spokesman Joao Carlos.
“Starting today the situation is not very good.”
Severe flooding in Xai-Xai would sever the main road connection between the north and south of the country.
“Private and commercial services have been evacuated from the lower parts of the city to higher areas,” said police spokeswoman Sylvia Paolo.
“The population obeyed the calls for them to leave risk areas.”
Meanwhile in the cities and towns already affected the scale the of the disaster was evident.
Initial evacuations of around 30,000 people who did not hear or ignored flood warnings are under way.
Towns such as Chokwe remain submerged, with thousands of homes destroyed and key services such as banks, shops, schools and hospitals wrecked.
There were also reports of looters breaking into half submerged stores.
“Eight people were arrested in the Chokwe district, yesterday. They stole beer, drinks, oil and rice from shops,” said police spokesperson Paolo.
The suspects were taken to a nearby town.
“They can’t be held in Chokwe. All prisoners have been transferred to higher zones.”
News of the looting caused panic among homeowners stranded outside the town.
“They have been robbing us in Chokwe!” shouted one woman.
Meanwhile in the capital Maputo several bridges, roads and schools have been seriously damaged.
The price tag in the capital alone is expected to be around $30 million according to UN agencies.
Humanitarian workers are now struggling to provide food and shelter before cholera, malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea grip the make-shift settlements.
Agencies are rushing to supply three mobile hospital tents, 15,000 mosquito needs a various other provisions.
According to the National Water Directorate nine rivers in five basins were above alert levels, including the Zambezi and the Limpopo.