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The Latest On A Deadly Cyclone That Ripped Through Southern Africa


A powerful cyclone tore across southern Africa late last week. It is only now that the scale of destruction is becoming clear. Buildings were ripped apart, villages submerged, roads and bridges washed out, a vital port almost totally destroyed. Mozambique was particularly hard hit. The president there says the death toll may exceed 1,000 people.

NPR's Eyder Peralta joins us now to talk about the cyclone. Hey, Eyder.


KELLY: So I gather the president of Mozambique has been touring the region by helicopter. Give me some sense of what he's likely seeing, what he's saying about it.

PERALTA: I mean, he is saying that this has been devastating to the country. Some of the aerial shots released by the government - they show Beira, which is the fourth-largest city in Mozambique, completely under water. They show huge houses and buildings completely destroyed - roofs torn off, walls collapsed.

President Filipe Nyusi spoke to his country on state radio earlier today. Let's listen to a bit of what he said.


PRESIDENT FILIPE NYUSI: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: So President Nyusi says his government's priority is to save lives. He has military helicopters and sea vessels distributing food and water. But there are huge needs, and he says the government is doing everything to help facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid.

As you noted, he fears more than a thousand people could be dead. But really, the big worry is that this is an ongoing crisis. The government of Mozambique says about 100,000 people are in danger of dying.

KELLY: In danger of dying from what at this point?

PERALTA: Some places are inaccessible. It's hard to get food and water out to people, so their lives are in danger.

KELLY: This cyclone has a name. It's Cyclone Idai. And to the timing question, I mentioned that it hit on Thursday. Why has it taken this long for the scale of destruction to become known?

PERALTA: In some ways, this was unexpected. Southern Africa does get cyclones, but they're rare. Madagascar tends to weaken them as they approach the mainland. And this one took a rare path. It made landfall almost as the equivalent of a major Category 3 hurricane. And it basically delivered a direct hit to Beira. And it seems to have caught the region a bit off-guard. Cellphone towers were destroyed, and the flooding meant that the roads into Beira were cut off. Most first responders couldn't even make it into the city until yesterday, which is when we started hearing of just how bad things were.

KELLY: Well, I was going to ask whether aid organizations and doctors have been able to reach the affected area. Are they reporting back out on what they are seeing?

PERALTA: They are - some of them are on the ground. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - they were in there after the storm hit. And just a little while ago, one of their officials on the ground texted, reporting just utter devastation. The IFRC says Beira is 90 percent destroyed. And yesterday, a dam burst and cut off the last road into the city. You know, what this tells us is that we still have not yet come to understand the extent of the devastation.

KELLY: NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting there from Nairobi, Kenya, on a disaster, a cyclone that hit last Thursday. And as we just heard there, a disaster that is still very much still unfolding.

Eyder, thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.