BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — After barreling through Mozambique and Malawi since late last week, killing hundreds and displacing thousands more, Cyclone Freddy is set to move away from land Wednesday, which should bring some relief to southern African regions that have been ravaged by its torrential rain and powerful winds.
The cyclone has killed at least 199 people in Malawi's southern region including Blantyre, the country's financial hub, according to local authorities. In neighboring Mozambique, officials say at least 20 people have died since the storm made landfall in the port town of Quelimane on Saturday night.
“There are many casualties — either wounded, missing, or dead and the numbers will only increase in the coming days," said Guilherme Botelho, emergency project coordinator in Blantyre with Doctors Without Borders. Malawi, which has been battling a cholera outbreak, is at risk of a resurgence of the disease, Botelho said, "especially since the vaccine coverage in Blantyre is very poor.”
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The aid organization has suspended its outreach programs to protect its staff against flash floods and landslides but is supporting cyclone relief efforts at a local hospital.
A regional cyclone monitoring center on the island of Réunion projects that Freddy will move back out to sea by late Wednesday afternoon. It's unclear whether the cyclone — now set to be the longest ever — will then dissipate or move away from land after that.
“Even rich countries that are advanced democracies would have been no match for the level of destruction this cyclone has brought. Malawi has a disaster management agency that prepares and plans for the challenges that come with our contemporary climate crisis,” said Kim Yi Dionne of University of California Riverside. “We are likely to hear of many more casualties ... in the days and weeks to come.”
Cyclone Freddy has been causing destruction in southern Africa since late February. It pummeled Mozambique as well as the islands of Madagascar and Réunion last month as it traversed the Indian Ocean.
Freddy first developed near Australia in early February. The U.N.'s weather agency has convened an expert panel to determine whether it has broken the record for the longest-ever cyclone in recorded history, which was set by 31-day Hurricane John in 1994.
Alexandre Nhampossa and Tom Gould contributed to this report from Maputo, Mozambique. Kabukuru reported from Mombasa, Kenya.
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