Cyclone Idai: Thousands in Pre-Digital Era Without Internet or Phones as Death Toll Rises to 750

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Cyclone Idai has claimed the lives of more than 750 people and plunged thousands into a communication blackout with the outside world.

The Category 2 storm made landfall shortly around midnight on March 15 in the Mozambican port of Beira, with 175 kph (109 mph) winds that brought huge rains and submerged villages as it moved inland toward Zimbabwe and Malawi.

In Mozambique, 446 people have died, according to the country’s Minister of Land and Environment Celso Correia. The United Nations has confirmed that 259 lives have been lost in Zimbabwe and 56 in Malawi.

In the devastated coastal city of Beira, communication remains severely limited.

Much of the city’s telecommunication and satellite infrastructure was completely destroyed in the storm.

Electricity has been similarly affected, with pylons and telephone poles left broken or submerged — making it difficult to charge mobile phones and other devices. Credit card payments cannot be processed in many places and there are large queues outside ATMs.

On Avenue Eduardo Mondhlane, near the waterfront, strong winds uprooted massive trees and tossed them into homes. Expensive homes built in Portuguese colonial style lost their tiled roofs.

At the Escola Santa Lucia aluminum roofing is still dangerously strewn across the school. Many of the students here have returned to the school despite the devastation around her, according to its director, Batista Comesario Gaetano.

Inland devastation

On the road to the village of Tica, 80 kilometers (49 miles) from Beira’s beaches, there is water as far as the eye can see.

Drone footage shows massive tracts of land completely submerged and huge trees snapped like twigs. Rescue workers are still scrambling to reach those trapped in stagnant waters and contain the spread of disease.

An eye witness described seeing 300 to 400 bodies wash up on a stretch of road just north of Tica.

Cholera cases have been reported in Beira along with an increasing number of malaria infections among those trapped by the flooding, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The government is setting up cholera treatment centers in affected areas.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has called Cyclone Idai a disaster of great proportions.

‘The soils had filled my mouth’

After hitting Mozambique, Cyclone Idai tore into Zimbabwe killing many people as they slept.

The 83-year-old husband of one Chimanimani resident was buried alive when their bedroom collapsed on them last Friday.

“We were sleeping in the house around 10 p.m. in the evening and it was raining. It kept on pouring when rocks sliding from the hill started hitting our house,” said the 59-year-old.

“The stones we built our house with collapsed on us, and then I yelled, ‘oh my, I’m dying!’ The soils had filled my mouth, nose and ears. Water filled the house to almost my neck level … I started to shake my husband’s body to no avail. He was already dead.”

Nearby, another family had abandoned searching for their 16-year-old missing son, who they suspect is buried under the mud.

Efforts to bring aid to those affected by Cyclone Idai are under way in Zimbabwe. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is airlifting food to some of the areas where people are still trapped.

Mnangagwa declared March 23 and 24 national days of mourning.

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