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Floods destroy homes, trap families in cyclone-hit Mozambique

Floods and rains that followed sent brown water coursing through the streets of the province’s main city Pemba on Sunday and submerged roads leading to remote areas to the north and south.

The destruction wrought by Cyclone Kenneth. Picture: @UNOCHA_ROSEA/Twitter

PEMBA, Mozambique – Rescuers raced to help people caught in rising floodwaters in cyclone-hit northern Mozambique on Sunday as houses collapsed and heavy rains raised fears of worse to come.

Cyclone Kenneth first slammed into the province of Cabo Delgado late on Thursday, flattening entire villages with winds of up to 280 kph and storm surges - the second cyclone to hit the country in six weeks.

Floods and rains that followed sent brown water coursing through the streets of the province’s main city Pemba on Sunday and submerged roads leading to remote areas to the north and south.

The Mozambican government has put the initial death count at five. But rescuers said there were fears for the safety thousands of families cut off after rivers burst their banks outside the city.

Flights and helicopters were currently grounded, making access “virtually impossible”, said Nicholas Finney from Save the Children.

In Pemba, mud homes in the northern neighbourhood of Natite had started to collapse under the pressure of the water, the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA said.

Residents tried to bail water out of their houses with plastic buckets. Others stacked sandbags outside or waded through waist-high floods in the torrential rain.

Video footage showed a line of cars forming on the main road out of the coastal city. A section of the route was under water.

Rescue workers evacuated at least 130 people to centres elsewhere in Pemba on Sunday, mostly by boat, said Salviano Abreu, spokesperson for the UN’s humanitarian arm.

“AWFUL SENSE OF DEJA VU”

Mozambique is still recovering from Cyclone Idai that hit further south last month and moved into neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing more than 1,000 people.

It is the first time on record that two such powerful cyclones have hit Mozambique in so short a space of time.

Weather forecasters have warned that Kenneth could dump twice as much rain on northern Mozambique.

“It’s an awful sense of deja vu,” Save the Children’s Finney said. “The response for Cyclone Idai is already chronically underfunded and resources are stretched to the limit.”

Mozambican officials on Saturday urged people living near rivers to the north and south of the city to move to higher ground.

An aerial assessment of the affected area on Saturday showed some villages had been “entirely wiped out” by the cyclone, Gemma Connell of OCHA said.

“They look like they have been run over with a bulldozer,” she added.

Images shared by the agency showed rows of wooden houses, separated by sandy paths, that had been almost completely flattened. Only a few structures and the occasional coconut tree were left standing.

The UN says more than 1.8 million people still need aid in central Mozambique, where Idai destroyed homes, ruined crops and unleashed a cholera outbreak. Kenneth affected at least 168,000 others, the country’s disaster management agency said on Sunday.

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