Thousands of stranded Mozambicans beg to be rescued

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A humanitarian crisis unfolded in central Mozambique on Sunday where floods have stranded thousands of desperate villagers in trees and on rooftops. Thousands more were marooned 500 miles farther south after the Limpopo River burst its banks.

A humanitarian crisis unfolded in central Mozambique on Sunday where floods have stranded thousands of desperate villagers in trees and on rooftops. Thousands more were marooned 500 miles farther south after the Limpopo River burst its banks.

Officials refuse to speculate how many people already have been swept away in the vast area along the banks of the Save River, about 625 miles north of Maputo. The deluge of water flattened trees and brick houses.

On Sunday, groups of people huddled together on tiny patches of raised earth and the remains of their homes. With outstretched arms, they pleaded with overflying helicopters for help. UNICEF's Ian Macleod estimated between 5,000 and 10,000 people were stranded in the area.

Two South African helicopters hoisted people aboard and dropped them a short distance away on slightly bigger raised patches of earth. With the nearest refueling point 124 miles away, rescues were going painfully slowly.

Journalists who flew ten nautical miles up the river mouth saw between 500 and 1,000 marooned people. Rescue pilots said there were many more upstream.

Many more helicopters will be needed, but the South African and Mozambican government were arguing on Sunday about who would pay for the operations.

The helicopter shortage was also evident farther south, where 3,000 people near the flooded Limpopo River were still at risk when the available five South African helicopters quit rescue missions for the evening, said Major Louis Kirsten, a spokesman for the South African force.

The helicopters had saved 1,200 people and would be back Monday, Kirsten said.

No death toll was available, but it was clear that the floods had claimed several lives, said Michele Quintaglie, a spokeswoman with the World Food Program. Thousands of people would be trapped in trees and on roofs overnight, she said, adding the Limpopo was still rising.

"Inevitably we're going to lose those people," she said.

Helicopter pilots often had to push away desperate people trying to get on the fully loaded helicopters, she said, adding they were focusing on saving the children first.

"It's a very dangerous situation right now because people are panicking," Quintaglie said.

Lt. Col. Jaco Klopper, commander of the South African rescue efforts, said there were advanced plans to send five more helicopters and two planes from South Africa to Mozambique but "there are still contractual obligations to sort out."

The flood submerged Chokwe in just a few hours, Quintaglie said.

"These people went to bed last night with no sign of water. At 5 a.m., they woke up by hysterical screams telling them to get out. By early morning, the city was engulfed by water. By lunch, it was completely submerged," she said.

Rain fell over the area Sunday and the South African Weather Bureau in Pretoria reported more heavy showers were on the way.

Floods have ravished this impoverished southeast African country for three weeks.

Cyclone Eline, which earlier wreaked havoc in Mozambique on Tuesday, on Sunday was situated over northern Botswana and northwestern Namibia, where it was causing heavy rain.

In Zimbabwe, police on Sunday said that at least 33 people were dead and 20 missing after a bus had been swept off a flooded bridge late Friday. Twenty passengers survived. The fatalities brought to 62 Zimbabwe's known death toll from flooding since Tuesday.

In South Africa, 28 people had died during the past week's cyclone-related flooding in the Northern Province, the South African Press Association reported Sunday, citing police. Torrential rains, which started a few weeks ago, have claimed the lives of more than 70 people nationwide.

The Government has faced calls to provide military support to the international aid effort in Mozambique.

Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrats' international development spokeswoman, said: "The Government must urgently pledge military help to the evacuation programme in Mozambique.

"While the response from the Department for International Development has so far been good, much more is needed to stop Mozambique from slipping back after five years' excellent progress."

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