A washed up boat lies amongst storm debris on Wimbe beach as the region braces for further rainfall in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth, in Pemba, Mozambique, April 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

April 28, 2019

By Mike Hutchings and Emma Rumney

PEMBA, Mozambique/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Rescuers were racing to help people caught in fast-rising floodwaters in Mozambique’s cyclone-hit city of Pemba on Sunday, as houses collapsed in one neighborhood and heavy rain raised fears of worse to come.

Cyclone Kenneth slammed into the northern province of Cabo Delgado on Thursday, flattening entire villages and killing at least five people. It has since pounded a region prone to floods and mudslides with rain, prompting warnings that rivers could burst their banks and leave vast areas under water.

The impoverished southern African country is still recovering from another powerful cyclone that hit further south last month, submerging an area of 3,000 square km (1,200 square miles) and killing more than 1,000 people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

As a heavy downpour hammered Pemba, home to about 200,000 people, brown water started to course through the streets on Sunday.

Homes started to collapse in the northern neighborhood of Natite, one of the worst-affected areas, the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA said on Twitter.

Residents tried frantically to bail water out of their houses with plastic buckets, but many quickly flooded in the torrential rain. Others stacked sandbags outside their homes to keep the rising water out, while elsewhere small, rapid rivers formed, carving trenches into the street.

Rescue workers evacuated at least 130 people to centers elsewhere in the city on Sunday, mostly by boat, said Salviano Abreu, spokesman for the U.N.’s humanitarian arm.

Video shared by another U.N. official, Luiz Godhino, showed

people on a seaside avenue in Pemba wading through waist-high water in the pouring rain. A car had been swept into a ditch, and a torrent of brown water churned under a bridge.

Another image showed a line of cars forming on the main road out of the city, a section of which was under water.

There was no immediate word on the extent of flooding outside Pemba.

Mozambican authorities had on Friday urged people living near two rivers, one to the north of the city and the other to the south, to move to higher ground.

Weather forecasters had warned that Kenneth, with winds of up to 280 km per hour (174 miles per hour) when it made landfall, could dump twice as much rain on northern Mozambique as Cyclone Idai did near the port city of Beira last month.

It is the first time on record that two such powerful cyclones have hit Mozambique in so short a space of time.

The U.N. says more than 1.8 million people still need aid in central Mozambique, where Idai destroyed homes, ruined crops and unleashed a cholera outbreak. Kenneth affected at least 168,000 others, the country’s disaster management agency said on Sunday.

Following an aerial assessment of the affected area in Cabo Delgado on Saturday, an official with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said some villages had been “entirely wiped out”.

“They look like they have been run over with a bulldozer,” said Gemma Connell, who heads OCHA’s regional office.

Images shared by the agency showed rows of wooden houses, separated by sandy paths, that had been almost completely flattened. Only a few structures and the occasional coconut tree were left standing.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney in Johannesburg and Mike Hutchings in Pemba; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Alexandra Zavis and Dale Hudson)

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