Death toll from floods in Africa rises to 150

More than 1 million have lost homes, jobs, relief agencies say

February 27, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Several weeks of torrential rains and floods, made worse when a deadly storm lashed the heel of Africa last week, have killed more than 150 people and swept away the homes and livelihoods of more than 1 million in four countries, relief agencies and government officials say.

The latest storm, which hit the region beginning Tuesday, has killed more than 60 people and left thousands homeless as fierce winds downed power lines and swollen rivers swallowed roads, houses and bridges in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

In many places, the rain continued to fall yesterday as rescue helicopters tried to deliver food, tents and blankets and pluck stranded people from rooftops, trees and farms that had become tiny snake-infested islands.

Last week's storm was particularly destructive because it came after several weeks of rains had battered the three countries and Botswana. Doctors and government officials fear the situation will further deteriorate in the next days with more outbreaks of cholera, malaria and typhoid.

"The situation is going from bad to worse," said Kenny Mathiva, a spokesman for the local government in the Northern Province, which borders Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and is the South African province most severely affected by the storm.

"Thirty-three people were dead by midday yesterday, and it's still raining," said Mathiva, who flew in a military helicopter yesterday to assess the damage. "The housing is collapsing. The main routes are flooded. The people affected are some of the poorest of the poor."

On Friday, the U.S. Defense Department announced that it would send emergency supplies to South Africa and Mozambique. The supplies, which will begin arriving tomorrow, will include 140 tents, 6,900 blankets, 6,000 water cans and 160 rolls of plastic sheeting for emergency shelter.

The United Nations World Food Program is delivering food to more than 100,000 people in Mozambique, which has borne the brunt of this month's flooding. An estimated 300,000 Mozambicans have lost their homes, farms and cattle to the floods.

Earlier last week, the United Nations and the Mozambican government issued an urgent appeal for $65 million for relief work.

"There are immediate needs for food, shelter and medicine," Ibrahim Gambari, the United Nations' special adviser for Southern Africa, said of Mozambique in a radio interview. "But at the same time, the international community has to pay attention to the tremendous damage to infrastructure."

Mozambique, which turned its back on decades of war to build one of the world's fastest-growing economies, has nearly 200,000 acres of farmland under water, 141 schools destroyed, and short-staffed hospitals and clinics struggling to cope with demand.

"Health services in the affected areas are overwhelmed," the United Nations said.

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