Cyclone Idai death toll rises to more than 750 amid fears 'second humanitarian catastrophe of sickness is looming'

A displaced family arrives after being rescued by a boat from a flooded area of Buzi district, 120 miles outside of Beira, Mozambique Credit: Themba Hadebe/AP

Cyclone Idai’s death toll has risen to more than 750 amid fears it could yet still rise further with "a second humanitarian catastrophe of sickness and death is looming".

As efforts to rescue people trapped by the floods wind down, aid workers across the vast region are bracing for the spread of disease.

In Mozambique, the number of dead has risen to 446, while there are 259 dead in Zimbabwe and at least 56 dead in Malawi, bringing the total to 761, 10 days after the devastating tore into the three southern African nations.

All numbers for deaths are still preliminary, Mozambique’s Environment Minister Celso Correia warned.

As floodwaters recede and more bodies are being discovered, the final death toll in Mozambique alone could be above the early estimate of 1,000 made by the country’s President a few days after the cyclone hit, aid workers said.

"It’s only a matter of time before water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea start spreading," Claire Rogers the CEO of charity World Vision Australia said.

Claire Rogers helps to deliver aid in Beira. Credit: Paco Anselmi/World Vision

Ms Rogers, who is in Beira - a town which bore the brunt of the cyclone, suffering up to 90% damage - warned that "with health centres and hospitals damaged, a second humanitarian catastrophe of sickness and death is looming".

A young boy sits outside a flooded house in Buzi district Credit: Themba Hadebe/AP

The sentiment was echoed by Mr Correia, the Mozambique Government’s Emergency Coordinator, who said his country would suffer "cholera for sure".

He added that a centre to respond to the disease has been set up in Beira although no cases been confirmed as yet.

Mr Correia added that Malaria is another "unavoidable" looming health problem due to large expanses of standing water left behind by the deluge of the cyclone which encourage the spread of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Beira is working to return basic services and nearly 110,000 people are now in camps more than a week after Cyclone Idai hit, he said.

A boy walks through a muddy walkway Credit: Themba Hadebe/AP

Ms Rogers added that while the "clean-up has started, it is going to take months to fix the health centres, hospitals and schools that have been torn apart", further adding to health fears.

While many people are now in camps, many remain in their homes in the "husks of what is left," Ms Rogers added.

"Yesterday we visited a school with 35 families sheltering in it.

"Only one or two rooms still had a roof, so it was hard to see how it was really providing adequate shelter."

Some 35 families have been sheltering in the school in the background of this image. Credit: James East/World Vision

Mr Correia confirmed electricity has been restored to water pumping and treatment stations by the government water agency so Beira and the nearby city of Dondo are now getting clean water.

He added that the port and railway line have reopened, while repairs and bypasses are being built to the main road, EN6, and it should reopen on Monday.

The restored road connection will allow larger deliveries of food, medicines and other essential supplies to be to be brought to Beira and to flooded areas like Nhamatanda, west of the city.

“People are already going,” the environment minister said of the newly accessible road.

A woman walks along a flooded road Credit: Themba Hadebe/AP

Asked about his country’s current corruption scandal and whether the diversion of money has hurt the rescue efforts, Mr Correia bristled, saying the Government’s focus now is on saving lives.

“We are doing everything to fight corruption,” he said.

“It’s systematic, up to the top,” he said of the anti-graft drive.

Two large field hospitals and water purification systems were on the way, joining a wide-ranging effort that includes drones to scout out areas in need across the landscape of central Mozambique, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, deputy director of the UN’s humanitarian operation, said.

The scale of the devastation is “extraordinary” not only because of the cyclone and flooding but because the land had already been saturated by earlier rains, he said.

A huge number of aid assets are now in Mozambique and Mr Stampa said: “No government in the world can respond alone in these circumstances.”

A woman walks along a flooded road in Buzi district. Credit: AP

Looking forward, "the biggest challenge is to be able to scale up emergency assistance now that search and rescue operations are coming to an end", Ms Rogers said.

"Beira and the nearby rural districts are on a knife edge, praying there will be no more heavy rains.

"As it often happens, these crises push the very poorest into absolute poverty and break any chance they have of escaping it.

"Floods have destroyed the crops that poor communities were hoping to get to break a cycle of hunger."