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Scale of destruction from Cyclone Idai remains unclear as deaths toll tops 600

Kate Bartlett and Lynsey Chutel, DPA on

Published in Weather News

BERIA, Mozambique -- The number of dead from Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi rose to at least 615, the United Nations said Saturday, citing official figures from the national governments.

The death toll in Mozambique reached 417, Environment Minister Celso Correia said, while the number of dead in Zimbabwe was 139. In Malawi, 59 deaths were reported according to a spokesman for the U.N. emergency aid agency OCHA in Geneva.

Rain continued in Mozambique's port city of Beira, which was nearly submerged by flooding when Idai hit.

Rescue workers used boats to reach stranded residents, and more than 130 people were brought into the port by rescuers and the Indian Navy. Many of those rescued had diarrhea, swollen and infected feet or weakness from a lack of food.

Navy officials said many people chose to remain behind in the destroyed city. Rescue operations will now shift their focus to providing food and basic necessities, they said.

Dozens of residents lined up to withdraw money from the few working ATMs. Aid workers feared that the growing frustration in the city may later lead to looting or skirmishes.

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The city with a population of about 500,000 was devastated by the storm. The cyclone left a 78-mile-wide lake in Beira and surrounding towns and villages.

"Forty eight hours after the cyclone, bad weather made it even harder for rescue operations," Correia said. "However, we managed to assess the impact using drones and aerial transport."

Cyclone Idai is "an unprecedented natural disaster and the impact is tremendous," Correia said.

Fearing a cholera outbreak, Correia said his ministry is working with counterparts in the health ministry to put measures in place to prevent further disaster.

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