Cyclone Idai has left a trail of destruction through southeastern Africa in recent days, and could be the worst recorded natural disaster to impact the southern hemisphere, according to the UN. As many as 2.6 million people may have been affected in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe since the cyclone first made landfall in Beira on Thursday, according to The Guardian.

The Mozambique port city of half a million is now almost entirely cut off by flooding, destroying “90 percent” of the city according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The storm has gone on to kill and injure thousands across the region. While the confirmed death toll is currently 238, that figure is likely to vastly increase as the damage is fully accounted for in the coming months. Mozambique president Filipe Nyusi called the storm “a humanitarian disaster of great proportion” and said over a thousand may have been killed in his country alone.

“This is shaping up to be one of the worst weather-related disasters ever to hit the southern hemisphere,” according to Clare Nullis, of the UN weather agency.

In Beira, 100,000 are urgently in need of rescue. With the city cut off by the flooded Buzi river, the South African and Mozambican militaries are working to rescue people from the air. Relief agencies are helping the government in rescue operations and the distribution of food aid.

“Where there was land, there’s now sea. The city itself is completely cut off. It’s really an island now in the ocean,” said Matthew Cochrane of the Red Cross.

With the city’s water pipelines cut, the population is also facing a high risk of cholera and typhoid outbreaks.

The rest of Mozambique is seeing floods up to six meters deep in a large portion of the country, with at least 1.7 million directly in the path of the cyclone.

Experts say that the effects of storms like Idai in southern Africa have likely been made more severe by the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and extreme rainfall.

“There are three factors with storms like this: rainfall, storm surge and wind. Rainfall levels are on the increase because of climate change, and storm surges are more severe because of sea level rises,” according to Oxford University Environmental Change Institute senior researcher Dr. Friederike Otto. “The standard of housing, the size of the population and effectiveness of the early warning systems…these are the sorts of things we need to think about as we move into a world where these events become more severe.”


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