Supplies of medicine and food reach flood refugees

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The Independent Online

Portuguese navy boats have joined South African helicopters in ferrying food and medicine to Mozambicans stranded by slowly rising floodwaters and living in overcrowded refugee camps.

Portuguese navy boats have joined South African helicopters in ferrying food and medicine to Mozambicans stranded by slowly rising floodwaters and living in overcrowded refugee camps.

A reporter aboard one South African helicopter ferrying food to the northern reaches of the Zambezi River on Sunday said 618 families on two islands were desperately waiting to be rescued. A South African Air Force officer said four helicopters would lift the families to higher ground on Monday.

But many peasant farmers continued to resist transfer from their submerged mud and thatch homesteads to camps set up by Western aid agencies.

"People are in a situation where they believe they are not in any danger at this stage," said South African Air force operation leader Colonel Hugh Paine. "We'll be on standby to help, but in the meantime we are moving in more food supplies and medical supplies."

The deluge, caused by heavy seasonal rains in southern Africa, has killed 52 people and displaced almost 80,000 in the central Zambezi valley, a year after catastrophic floods killed 700 and left 500,000 homeless.

Joao Zamissa of the Mozambique government's Disaster Management Institute said the arrival of eight high-powered Portuguese boats crewed by about 30 sailors and marines should help the effort to reach isolated communities. "Their job will be to move people to safer areas and deliver food to stranded communities in the flooded areas," he said.

Transport and Communications Minister Tomaz Salomao said the situation was "difficult but under control" on Sunday. He said Zimbabwe had been forced by pressure of water to reopen floodgates on the Kariba dam, forcing Mozambique to spill water more quickly from its own Cahor Bassa dam.

Authorities in Zimbabwe said at least 10 people had died in the past two weeks in flood-related incidents. Zimbabwe's Civil Protection Unit warned the floods could get worse and urged people living near riverbanks and some parts of the northern Zambezi Valley to move to higher ground.

Large parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia are waterlogged which means that all additional rain runs off into rivers and the region's two large dams, both of which are already overflowing.

Zamissa said a lack of legal authority had hampered efforts to evacuate an estimated 80,000 people from the path of new floodwaters tumbling down the swollen Zambezi.

He added that the government was preparing legislation to prevent people settling on the flood plains that are regularly inundated during wet weather cycles.

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