JOHANNESBURG (AP) — More than 1,000 people were feared dead in Mozambique four days after a cyclone slammed into the country, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the floodwaters, the nation's president said.
"It is a real disaster of great proportions," President Filipe Nyusi said.
Cyclone Idai could prove to be the deadliest storm in generations to hit the impoverished southeast African country of 30 million people.
It struck Beira, an Indian Ocean port city of a half-million people, late Thursday and then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi with strong winds and heavy rain. But it took days for the scope of the disaster to come into focus in Mozambique, which has a poor communication and transportation network and a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.
Speaking on state Radio Mozambique, Nyusi said that while the official death toll stood at 84, "It appears that we can register more than 1,000 deaths."
Emergency officials cautioned that while they expect the death toll to rise significantly, they have no way of knowing if it will reach the president's estimate.
More than 215 people were killed by the storm in the three countries, including more than 80 in Zimbabwe's eastern Chimanimani region, according to official figures. Hundreds more were reported missing and nearly 1,000 homes destroyed in eastern Zimbabwe alone.
U.N. agencies and the Red Cross helped rush emergency food and medicine by helicopter to the stricken countries.