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Death toll climbs as record-breaking Cyclone Freddy slams Malawi and Mozambique

Uprooted tree from cyclone in Mozambique
An uprooted tree lies across a street in Quelimane, Mozambique, after Cyclone Freddy made its second landfall Saturday night.
(Associated Press)
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An unrelenting Cyclone Freddy has killed at least 56 people in Malawi and Mozambique since it struck southern Africa for a second time Saturday night, authorities in the two countries have confirmed.

Local police said 51 people in Malawi, including 36 in Chilobwe, in the financial hub of Blantyre in the center of the country, have died, with several others missing or injured. Authorities in Mozambique reported that five people were killed in the country since Saturday.

The deaths in Malawi include those of five members of a single family in Blantyre’s Ndirande township after Freddy’s destructive winds and heavy rains demolished their house, according to a police report. A 3-year-old girl who was trapped in the debris is also among the victims, with her parents among those reported missing, authorities said.

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“We suspect that this figure will rise as we are trying to compile one national report from our southwest, southeast and eastern police offices, which cover the affected areas,” Malawi police spokesperson Peter Kalaya told the Associated Press.

The cyclone lashed Mozambique and Malawi over the weekend and into Monday. It’s the second time the record-breaking cyclone — which has been causing destruction in southern Africa since late February — made landfall in mainland Africa. It also pummeled the island states of Madagascar and Réunion as it traversed the ocean.

The cyclone has intensified a record seven times and has the highest-ever recorded accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, which is a measurement of how much energy a cyclone has released over time. Freddy has recorded more energy over its lifetime than an entire typical U.S. hurricane season.

For years, experts had been warning Monterey and Santa Cruz County that the levee along the Pajaro River could fail.

March 12, 2023

Freddy first developed near Australia in early February and traveled across the entire southern Indian Ocean. It’s set to be the longest-ever recorded tropical cyclone. The United Nations’ weather agency has convened an expert panel to determine whether it has broken the record of 31 days set by Hurricane John in 1994.

Freddy made landfall in the seaport of Quelimane in Mozambique on Saturday, where there are reports of damage to houses and farmland, although the extent of the destruction is not yet clear. Telecommunications and other essential infrastructure are still cut off in much of Zambezia province, impeding rescue and other humanitarian efforts.

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French weather agency Meteo-France’s regional tropical cyclone monitoring center in Réunion warned Monday that “the heaviest rains will continue over the next 48 hours” as Freddy churns on. Mozambique’s central provinces and Malawi have been identified as especially vulnerable to “floods and landslides in mountainous areas” by weather monitors.

Much of the damage experienced in Malawi is to homes built in areas where they’re prohibited by law, such as in mountainous regions or near rivers. The cyclone has forced the Malawian government to suspend schools in 10 districts in its southern region “as a precautionary measure.”

Freddy is expected to weaken and to exit back to sea Wednesday, according to Meteo-France.

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