MAPUTO - Soldiers and relief workers using helicopters and canoes have evacuated about 60000 people from the flooded Zambezi River Valley in central Mozambique, where more than 100000 others are at risk.
More rains are forecast and floodgates that must be opened to save the wall of a massive hydroelectric dam will add to the dangers this week, officials said yesterday.
About 100 people have drowned or been electrocuted by downed power lines and hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes in torrential rains that have swamped a swath of southern Africa - from Angola in the west to Mozambique in the east with Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe in-between. Thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed. Bridges have collapsed and roads have been swept away.
The Zambezi, a flood-plain river that crosses the continent and has three major dams, burst its banks weeks ago. Its swollen waters and those of its tributaries came together at Mozambique's northwestern Cahora Bassa hydroelectric dam. Officials began discharging water from the overflowing dam, which covers 2700 square kilometres, at a rate of up to 10000 cubic metres a minute last week.
More floodgates must be opened this week to prevent the dam wall from bursting, authorities said. That will unleash walls of water that will bear down the Zambezi and sweep into the centre of the country.
The Mozambicans are coordinating with water authorities in Zambia, where dams and reservoirs are also near capacity.
The director of Mozambique's National Disasters Management Office, Paola Zucula, said that 59554 people have been evacuated from the Zambezi Valley in the past three days.
He said he had ordered an airborne rescue effort to start this past Sunday, with two helicopters joining a flotilla of boats and canoes manned by police and relief workers.
Still, Zucula said, of the 164000 people affected by the floods nationwide, 104400 are still at risk, trapped by rising waters.
The main road being used to transport emergency supplies has been cut off by the floods, he said, hampering efforts and forcing authorities to use a cargo helicopter to ferry relief aid.
The northern Zambian town of Luangwa has been cut off from the rest of the country since the Luangwa river burst its banks and submerged the only road access, officials said.
"Essential supplies to the district cannot be delivered, unless by air. If the situation continues for an extended period, the district will run out of essential supplies," said Trust Hakulipa, the disaster manager for Zambia's Red Cross. An assessment team was unable to reach the town, he said.
Mozambique's Prime Minister Luisa Diogo has ordered the forcible removal of people in low-lying areas, amid reports that some peasant farmers are refusing to evacuate unless their cattle and goats are also rescued.
Diogo flew over the flooded area last week and said that islands in the Zambezi river could be identified only by the peaks of roofs sticking out of the water. Rescuers have saved some victims found clinging to trees, according to provincial authorities. More than 46000 homes have been washed away in Mozambique, officials said.
Diogo said this year's floods could be worse than those of 2000-01, which killed about 800 people, but that they do not expect as many fatalities because relief workers and agencies are better prepared.
The UN world food programme launched an urgent appeal yesterday for food and other aid for flood victims.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies said it was releasing more than R1,5million from its disaster relief emergency fund to help flood victims in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
Mozambique is on "red alert", one step down from declaring a national disaster. - Sapa-AP