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Cyclone hits flood-ravaged Mozambique

A powerful tropical cyclone with winds of up to 144 mph surged ashore in southern Mozambique on Thursday, ripping through buildings, knocking over power pylons and raising fears of new flooding.
/ Source: Reuters

A powerful tropical cyclone with winds of up to 144 mph surged ashore in southern Mozambique on Thursday, ripping through buildings, knocking over power pylons and raising fears of new flooding.

Cyclone Favio, the strongest to hit the southern African country, was then heading towards the Zambezi River valley where it was likely to worsen floods that have already killed some 40 people and driven 120,000 from their homes.

The category-four storm hit Vilanculos, some 500 miles north of the capital Maputo, early on Thursday, damaging the tourist town's courthouse, prison and market and destroying an untold number of houses.

Roads were swamped with rain and blocked by uprooted trees.

"We are just standing with our hands folded," Sulemane Amugy, the town's mayor, told Reuters by telephone. "And I can't do anything because all the roads have been blocked by falling trees and it's even impossible to try and rescue the people whose homes have been hit because there is no access."

There were no confirmed reports of fatalities or injuries.

Hospital, jail damaged
Sulemane, however, noted that some 720 people had been in the town's hospital and jail when the cyclone hit. Both buildings suffered extensive damage, according to officials.

The National Meteorology Institute, INAM, said Favio's strong winds and rains were concentrated in the province of Inhambane but were felt as far away as Xai-Xai, the capital of nearby Gaza province.

The storm was moving northwards, taking aim at the central Zambezi River valley, which is already struggling with severe flooding following weeks of heavy rains.

"It's still very strong and heading towards the port city of Beira, Manica and lastly Zimbabwe, but it will reach there a little bit weaker than it is now," INAM spokesman Helder Sueia said.

Officials have said that the storm, reportedly stronger than Cyclone Eline, which devastated Mozambique in 2000, could cause widespread damage to power grids, industry and other key parts of the impoverished nation's small but fast-growing economy.

Its impact has already been felt at the holiday resort of Tofo Beach, a favorite of backpackers and scuba divers, where it uprooted palm trees and destroyed electric pylons, according to Radio Mozambique.

'Sad scenario' in flood area
There were also growing fears that the storm would bring more misery to flood-ravaged central Mozambique, where tens of thousands live in temporary shelters with scant supplies of food and fresh water.

"Our disaster management team is currently busy responding to the floods," Mozambique Red Cross General Secretary Fernanda Teixeira told national television this week.

"It will be a sad scenario for the people ... to be hit by a cyclone at a time when they are healing from the recent flooding," Teixeira said.

Officials said the problems could multiply in the coming days as Favio dumps its rains in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, further swelling the tributaries that feed the Zambezi.

Mozambique's worst disaster in recent memory occurred in 2000-2001 when a series of cyclones compounded widespread flooding in southern and central parts of the country, killing 700 people and driving close to half a million from their homes.