By Devin Watkins
“In recent days, great floods have sowed mourning and devastation in various areas of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. I express my pain and closeness to those dear people.”
With these heartfelt words, Pope Francis expressed his condolences for the families of the more than 350 people killed by Cyclone Idai, as well as his solidarity with the millions of people affected. The powerful storm made landfall on the coast of Mozambique last Thursday before spreading death and destruction halfway across southeast Africa.
Pope Francis made the appeal at the Wednesday General Audience held in St. Peter’s Square.
“I entrust the many victims and their families to the mercy of God, and I implore comfort and support for those affected by this calamity,” he said.
Hundreds dead in Mozambique
Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique’s port city of Beira with winds of up to 170 kph on Thursday last week. Drone footage taken by the Red Cross showed the devastation wreaked upon one area, with empty plots seen where winds had blown entire buildings from their foundations.
Mozambique started three days of national mourning on Wednesday for the victims, who currently number in excess of 200. President Filipe Nyusi says the death toll may reach a thousand, as rescuers continue to recover bodies and hundreds remain missing.
Officials say the full extent of the damage will only emerge when flood waters recede, and forecasters predict persistent rains through Thursday.
In neighboring Zimbabwe, the remnants of Cyclone Idai also caused massive flooding, killing at least 98 people. The number of victims may rise to around 300, say officials.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa visited the hard-hit mountain community of Chimanimani. The bodies of some flood victims may have been swept down the mountainside into nearby Mozambique.
A local resident took a video at Chimanimani’s Catholic Church, where funeral services were held and women wailed in mourning. “Lots of people suffering. People didn’t stand a chance here,” he said.
Unknown destruction in Malawi
Malawi has yet to release details of any casualties from the storm. But the UN’s World Food Programme said Tuesday that projections from satellite images indicate that Cyclone Idai affected some 920,000 people in Malawi. More than 1.7 million were in its direct path in Mozambique.
The United Nations has directed $20 million from its emergency response fund to help people suffering in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.