Cyclone Freddy death toll in southeast Africa surpasses 500

The World Meteorological Organization says Cyclone Freddy, which began in February, is likely to be the longest on record in recorded history.

The death toll in Southeast Africa from exceptionally long-lasting tropical cyclone Freddy has risen to 522, according to authorities in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar.

Disaster relief authorities in Malawi, hardest hit by the cyclone, reported on Saturday that the death toll there had risen to 438. Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera announced a 14-day national mourning period on Thursday.

Hundreds of evacuation centers have been set up across the country for survivors. Tens of thousands in Malawi have been left homeless and about 345,000 people have been affected by the heavy rains, floods and landslides.

The cyclone has left a trail of devastation in Southeast Africa. Neighboring Mozambique and the island nation of Madagascar have also been affected.

At least 67 people have been killed in Mozambique, according to President Filipe Nyusi, and another 50,000 people have been displaced.

The death toll is expected to continue to rise in both countries. At least 17 people were killed in the island nation of Madagascar.

Cyclone Freddy dissipated overland late Wednesday after making landfall a second time over the weekend in Mozambique and then Malawi, causing massive devastation in several regions, including Blantyre, Malawi’s financial capital.

Some survivors of Cyclone Freddy at a camp in Blantyre, Malawi [Rabson Kondowe/Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller reported from Makanga, an island in Malawi, that while rescue efforts continued, they were slow to move people from flooded islands to the mainland.

“Until now, she [the police services] have reached about 1,300 people, but hundreds more are waiting. They had to take refuge in trees. Their homes have been washed away and they have no food,” Miller said.

“It will certainly be a few more days before a bigger dent is made in terms of rescuing people in places like this, which have been very difficult to reach until now,” she added.

Freddy first landed in Madagascar on February 21. From there, the storm moved on to Mozambique and then back across the Indian Ocean. On 11 March it reached Mozambique for the second time and then continued on to Malawi.

“Many areas are inaccessible, restricting the movement of assessment and humanitarian teams and life-saving supplies,” said Paul Turnbull, the director of the World Food Program in Malawi. “The true extent of the damage will not be revealed until assessments are completed.”

Both countries were already experiencing a cholera outbreak before the cyclone hit and there are fears that the flooding could exacerbate the spread of waterborne diseases. Mozambique also experienced Freddy’s first assault and flooding earlier this year.

Scientists say human-induced climate change has exacerbated cyclone activity, making them wetter, more intense and more frequent.

Cyclone Freddy has battered southern Africa since late February when it battered Mozambique, Madagascar and Reunion. It then returned 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 cyclone on record in recorded history.

Southern Africa is currently in cyclone season, which can bring rain and severe storms into March or April.