BEIRA (MOZAMBIQUE) - A cyclone that ripped across Mozambique and Zimbabwe has killed at least 162 people, with scores more missing, and caused "massive and horrifying" destruction in the Mozambican city of Beira, authorities and the Red Cross said on Monday (March 18).
Cyclone Idai tore into the centre of Mozambique last Thursday night (March 14) before sweeping into neighbouring Zimbabwe, bringing flash floods and ferocious winds, and washing away roads and houses.
"The scale of damage caused by Cyclone Idai that hit the Mozambican city of Beira is massive and horrifying," the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said in a statement.
It said 90 per cent of the city of some 530,000 people and its surrounding area had been "damaged or destroyed".
"The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous," the IFRC's Jamie LeSueur was quoted as saying in the statement.
"Almost everything is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible," he said.
A large dam burst on Sunday and cut off the last road to Beira, he said.
A toll compiled on Monday by Agence France-Presse (AFP) from official sources puts the death toll in Mozambique at 73, including 55 in Beira alone, and 89 in Zimbabwe.
At least 150 more people are missing in Zimbabwe, many of them believed to be government workers whose housing complex was engulfed by floods.
Mozambique's Environment Minister Celso Correia warned that the death toll would rise.
"I think this is the biggest natural disaster Mozambique has ever faced. Everything is destroyed," he told AFP on Sunday night at Beira international airport, which re-opened after being temporarily closed because of cyclone damage.
In Zimbabwe, Idai swept away homes and destroyed bridges, leaving a trail of destruction that Acting Defence Minister Perrance Shiri said "resembles the aftermath of a full-scale war".
"There was a lot of destruction both on our facilities and on people," said Mr Shiri, speaking on television from the affected eastern highlands region.
Roads have been swallowed by massive sinkholes, while bridges were ripped to pieces by flash floods, according to an AFP photographer.
"This is the worst infrastructural damage we have ever had," Zimbabwean Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza said.
Zimbabwe's eastern district of Chimanimani was the worst-hit part of the country, with houses and most of the bridges washed away by flash floods.
The most affected areas are not yet accessible, and high winds and dense clouds have hampered military rescue helicopter flights.
Two pupils and a worker at a secondary school in the area were among those killed after a landslide sent a boulder crashing into their dormitory.
Soldiers on Sunday helped rescue the surviving nearly 200 pupils, teachers and staff who had been trapped at the school in Chimanimani.
"The teachers and school authorities are making all efforts to ensure the children arrive and we take them home but it seems the situation is getting worse," one unnamed parent told state broadcaster ZBC as she raised concerns about the ongoing rains.
Mr Joshua Sacco, lawmaker for Chimanimani, told AFP by phone that between "150 and 200 people" are missing.
The majority of them are thought to be government workers whose housing complex was completely engulfed by raging waters. Their fate is currently unknown because the area is still unreachable.
"We are very worried because all these houses were just suddenly submerged under water and literally washed away and that is where we have about 147 missing," he said.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who cut short a visit to Abu Dhabi, said on arrival on Monday that "we are deeply grieved as a nation".