Officials in economically ravaged Zimbabwe issued new warnings Wednesday of floods, as fears grew that flooding in neighboring Mozambique would be more extensive than in 2001 when 800 people died.
Mozambican authorities said at least 60,000 people had been evacuated and 22,000 houses were under water. But they were optimistic they could keep loss of life to a minimum — seven flood-related deaths have been reported in Mozambique so far — thanks to their disaster-prevention strategy.
Torrential rains in Zambia and Zimbabwe have swollen the mighty Zambezi river — Africa's fourth longest — to well above the flood limit, with valleys in Malawi and Mozambique bearing the brunt as the waters hurtle down toward the Indian Ocean.
Zimbabwe's state radio said Wednesday that flooding risks were on the increase as the water flowing from the Zambezi into the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique was pushed back upstream into the Muzarabani and Dande areas of Zimbabwe, where at least 600 villagers have already lost their homes, crops and livestock in flood waters.
Deaths and outages
The official Herald newspaper said the government offered flood victims 140 miles northeast of Harare in Muzarabani — which means flood plain in the Shona language spoken in the region — food, parcels of land on a state-owned agricultural estate and assistance to build houses on higher ground. The government also promised to help evacuate people at risk from the waters.
At least 27 people have died in Zimbabwe, where rains since early December are reportedly the heaviest since record keeping began in the colonial era. Most of the victims were swept away by flooded rivers.
In rain-lashed towns, drinking water and power outages have worsened. Chronic shortages of hard currency and the world's highest inflation have made it difficult for utilities to buy imported equipment.
River valleys heavily monitored
In Mozambique — which is one of the world's poorest countries — contingency planning began last October for this year's rainy season.
Two helicopters are monitoring the river valleys, said Paulo Zucula, the director of the National Institute for Natural Disasters Management. Crews "are telling the boats where to find isolated groups of people," said Zucula.
Rescuers are using 16 motor boats, 10 of them on the Zambezi, assisted by the canoes of local farmers and fishermen.
Zucula said authorities were moving the displaced directly to areas previously set aside for such resettlement. Families are expected to build their own houses, and in return they are given food.
Zambia president to survey damage
The charity World Vision noted the peak of the rainy season was due in mid-February.
"Disaster prevention work is helping to reduce the likelihood of a high death toll like we saw in 2001," World Vision emergency officer Amos Doornbos said. "But those affected are the very vulnerable whose crops were wiped out last year and who have now lost their livelihood again."
In Zambia, President Levy Mwanawasa was headed to his country's south to survey flood damage, and appealed to foreign donors for financial aid. A key road linking eastern Zambia to the capital city was cut off Tuesday due to flooding.
At least one flood-related death, of a man swept away in Zambia's flooded Magoye river, has been reported.