A woman carrying a baby on her back walks over a ruble of damaged houses in Beira, Mozambique, Monday, March 25, 2019. The United Nations is making an emergency appeal for $282 million for the next three months to help Mozambique start recovering from the devastation of Cyclone Idai. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Cyclone relief operations press into Mozambique remote areas

March 26, 2019 - 4:58 am

BEIRA, Mozambique (AP) — Relief operations pressed into remote areas of central Mozambique where an unknown number of people remain without aid more than 10 days after a cyclone ripped across the country, while trucks attempted to reach the hard-hit city of Beira on a badly damaged road.

The United Nations made an emergency appeal for $282 million for the next three months, saying some 1.8 million people in Mozambique need urgent help after Cyclone Idai.

The death toll remained at least 761 in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, and authorities have warned it is "very preliminary." More bodies will be found as floodwaters drain away.

Emergency responders raced to contain deadly diseases such as cholera, which authorities have guaranteed will break out as more than a quarter-million displaced people shelter in camps with little or no clear water and sanitation. Many wells were contaminated by the floods.

People are living in tent camps, schools, churches, roads and other impromptu places on higher ground. Many have little but their clothes, squatting over cooking fires and picking their way around stretches of increasingly dirty water or simply walking through it, resigned.

The World Health Organization said it is expecting a "spike" in malaria cases in Mozambique. The disease-carrying mosquitoes breed in the standing water.

WHO also said 900,000 oral cholera vaccines had been approved and were expected to arrive later this week. Cholera is caused by eating contaminated food or drinking water and can kill within hours. Cases of diarrhea have been reported.

Aid continued to arrive, including much-needed air support. The World Food Program received $280,000 from the European Union to support the deployment of a U.N. Humanitarian Air Service helicopter that will deliver assistance to the two worst-hit districts in Zimbabwe, Chimanimani and Chipinge.

The United States said it had donated nearly $3.4 million in emergency food assistance to the World Food Program, whose director was touring Beira on Tuesday.

A field hospital was being set up in Beira and another is arriving later this week, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. A sanitation system to serve some 22,000 people has arrived and a water purification unit to serve some 25,000 people is expected to arrive on Wednesday, the organization said.

Bit by bit, the scale of the destruction became clearer. The cyclone reportedly destroyed all houses in the village of Metuchira, home to nearly 38,000 people, the U.N. humanitarian agency said.

Amid the relief efforts, grieving people in Mozambique struggled to bury the dead. "Efforts are underway to improve management of dead bodies, as mortuary facilities were either destroyed and/or lack enough facilities and capacity," the U.N. humanitarian agency said.

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Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.

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