In his weekly audience Pope Francis expresses his “closeness” to the people of Malawi who have been hit by a tropical cyclone that ripped through the country, triggering landslides that killed more than 200 people. His prayer comes as rescue scrambled on Wednesday to reach survivors in Malawi’s battered city of Blantyre.
“I am close to the people of Malawi hit in recent days by a very strong cyclone. I pray for the dead, the injured, the displaced. May the Lord support the families and the communities hardest hit by this calamity.” Pope Francis prayed at the open-air general audience at St.Peters’ square in the Vatican.
Weather conditions were expected to improve as the storm dissipated over land after days of torrential rains, but flood levels remained high in some areas hampering emergency efforts.
Freddy returned to southeastern Africa at the weekend for a second time in less than three weeks, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. Malawi’s government said at least 190 people were killed with 584 injured and 37 missing, while authorities in neighbouring Mozambique reported 21 deaths and 24 injured.
Rescue workers warned more victims were to be expected as they scoured destroyed neighbourhoods for survivors even as hopes dwindled. Many people perished in mudslides that washed away homes in southern city of Blantyre, the country’s commercial capital. Across Malawi, nearly 59,000 people have been affected and more than 19,000 displaced, with many now sheltering in schools and churches.
The storm has unofficially broken the World Meteorological Organization’s benchmark as the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record, set in 1994 for a 31-day storm named John.
Freddy became a named storm on February 6, making landfall in Madagascar on February 21 and sweeping over the island before reaching Mozambique on February 24, claiming nearly two dozen lives in both countries and affecting nearly 400,000 people.
It then returned to the Indian Ocean and gathered new force over the warm waters, then reversed course to come back much more powerful, packing wind gusts of up to 200 kilometres per hour (125 mph). Meteorologists say that cyclones tracking across the entire Indian Ocean are very infrequent — the last occurred in 2000 — and that Freddy’s loopback was even more exceptional.