At least 48 people have been killed in Mozambique and 39 in neighbouring Zimbabwe after tropical cyclone Idai tore through the two southern African countries, officials and media said Sunday. Dozens of others are missing after the storm brought strong winds, heavy rains and flash flooding destroying bridges and sweeping away homes in parts of the two adjacent nations.
Mozambique's state-owned Jornal Domingo newspaper reported 48 people have died so far in the worst-hit central Sofala province. Zimbabwe government spokesman Nick Mangwana told AFP that the death toll in the country was "is now at 39".
"Rescue and recovery efforts are ongoing," Mangwana added. He said most of the deaths occurred in the Ngangu township situated in a valley in Chimanimani town, where more than 100 houses were washed away.
Two of the victims were students who died after a landslide sent a boulder crashing into their dormitory, collapsing the wall of the dining room and trapping 50 of them, the country's Department of Civil Protection said. The boarding school was shut as the army, which is leading rescue operations, moved in to take the nearly 200 students to safety.
The United Nations said more than 100 people are missing in Zimbabwe and that up to 9,600 were affected by the cyclone. Some 300 refugees who were housed at Tongogara Refugee Camp in the southeast have been affected and 49 houses damaged.
Strong winds ripped roofs off of prison cells in the southern city of Masvingo, according to state broadcaster ZBC. Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who cut short his visit to Abu Dhabi, has declared a state of disaster in the affected areas.
Tropical cyclone Idai battered central Mozambique on Friday, cutting off more than half a million residents of the port city Beira. The city's airport was set to open on Sunday as flights began taking off from the capital Maputo bound for Beira.
An AFP journalist on a flight to Beira said most passengers were going to check on their families who they haven't heard from since the cyclone hit. Portuguese businessman Luis Leonor, 49, who owns a software company in Beira, told AFP while waiting to board the flight in Maputo that he had spoken to his wife via satellite phone on Saturday.
"She is fine. My house is fine but there's no more running water. I don't know what I will find there," he said. "My five employees lost their houses, they are staying at our offices." Beira international airport had been shut after the air traffic control tower and navigation equipment was destroyed by the cyclone.
Even before the cyclone made landfall on Friday, heavy rains earlier in the week had already claimed 66 lives and forced 17,000 people from their homes in Mozambique, local officials said. They also affected neighbouring Malawi, where 56 people died.
(With inputs from agencies.)