Terror of Mozambique's rooftop refugees

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The Independent Online

Flood waters rose rapidly in central Mozambique on Saturday, threatening to sweep away thousands of people desperately clinging to rooftops and trees, vainly hoping for rescue.

Flood waters rose rapidly in central Mozambique on Saturday, threatening to sweep away thousands of people desperately clinging to rooftops and trees, vainly hoping for rescue.

Three weeks after torrential rain began drenching southern Africa and four days after Cyclone Eline roared through, the worst human tragedies are still unfolding. Aid organisations, hampered by washed-out bridges and roads, cannot cope with the scale of the disaster.

"It's just reached a point that's incredible and it's going to get much worse," said Michelle Quintaglie, a spokeswoman for the UN World Food Program. A mass of water is on its way through South Africa to the already swollen Limpopo River, which spills into Mozambique. Meanwhile, another tropical storm is headed for the country's battered coastline.

At least 70 people are known to have died and some 200,000 have been displaced, mainly in the southern Gaza and Maputo provinces. The World Health Organization has warned that 800,000 are at risk from cholera, malaria and other diseases.

Aid workers who flew over Mozambique's Save River Valley, 1,000km (620 miles) north of Maputo, said they saw several thousand people in trees, on roofs and on narrow strips of land, where they have been marooned since Monday. The pilots saw several bodies being swept along by the flood waters.

"We need helicopters today. These people are desperate. It must be a nightmare for them," said Carol Collins, from British charity Save the Children.

South African Air Force helicopters have plucked more than 3,000 people to safety in southern Mozambique over two weeks, but there are no plans for the helicopters to fly to the Save River Valley, which is out of their range.

Aid organisations warned that the disaster would get even worse if South Africa's military ends its rescue operation when it runs out of funds today. But South Africa has flooding problems of its own and 40 people have already lost their lives in some areas of its Northern Province.

In neighboring Zimbabwe, floodwaters pushed a bus off a bridge into a raging river on Friday. No survivors were found. And six tourists were missing after their bus got stuck on a flooded bridge.

A US Air Force plane carrying humanitarian supplies is due in Maputo tomorrow, while an Italian aid plane was expected in Beira at the weekend. The World Bank announced a $2.5m (£1.6m) grant for flood victims on Friday and said more aid would follow.

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