The World Meteorological Organization has stated that Cyclone Freddy, which began in February, is likely to be the longest-ever recorded cyclone in history. The death toll in southeast Africa due to the cyclone has risen to 522, according to authorities in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar. Malawi has been hit the hardest by the cyclone, with disaster management authorities reporting that the death toll there had risen to 438. Malawi’s president, Lazarus Chakwera, declared a 14-day national mourning period on Thursday. There are hundreds of evacuation centres set up across the country for survivors, with tens of thousands in Malawi left homeless and approximately 345,000 people affected by the heavy rains, floods and landslides.
The cyclone has left a trail of devastation in southeast Africa. Neighbouring Mozambique and the island nation of Madagascar have also been affected. In Mozambique, at least 67 people have died, according to President Filipe Nyusi, with 50,000 more displaced. It is expected that the death toll in both nations will continue to climb. At least 17 people were killed in the island nation of Madagascar.
Cyclone Freddy dissipated over land late Wednesday after it made a second landfall in Mozambique and then Malawi over the weekend and caused mass devastation in several regions, including Malawi’s financial capital, Blantyre. Reporting from Makanga, an island in Malawi, Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller said that while rescue services were continuing, they have been slow to transport people from flooded islands to the mainland.
“A lot of areas are inaccessible, restricting movement of assessment and humanitarian teams and life-saving supplies,” said Paul Turnbull, the World Food Program’s director in Malawi. “The true extent of the damage will only be revealed once assessments have been concluded.”
Both nations were already facing a cholera outbreak before the cyclone hit and there are fears that the flooding could worsen the spread of water-borne diseases. Mozambique was also dealing with Freddy’s first battering and floods earlier in the year.
Scientists say human-caused climate change has worsened cyclone activity, making them wetter, more intense and more frequent. Cyclone Freddy has ravaged southern Africa since late February when it pummeled Mozambique, Madagascar and Réunion. It then looped back on to the mainland after regaining strength over the Mozambique Channel.
The World Meteorological Organization has convened an expert panel to determine whether Cyclone Freddy has broken the record for the longest-ever cyclone in recorded history. Southern Africa is currently in cyclone season, which can bring rain and severe storms until March or April.