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SPECIAL REPORT

Mounting fears for children separated from parents after Mozambique’s cyclone

Yasuyoshi Chiba, AFP | People collect metal sheets from a damaged supermarket to re-build their destroyed houses following the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, on March 21, 2019.

The UN has stepped up calls for aid in Mozambique, as the crisis grows more deadly by the day. FRANCE 24 spoke to aid workers at a rescue centre for children who became separated from their parents in the ensuing chaos.

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The confirmed death toll in Mozambique and neighbouring Zimbabwe topped 550 on Friday, with 293 killed in Mozambique, and 259 in Zimbabwe, according to the UN Migration agency IOM.

Around 1.7 million people have been affected by the catastrophe and hundreds are still missing.

FRANCE 24 visited a school in Beira, the country's fourth largest city, that has been converted into a rescue centre. Aid workers told our team that many of the children are traumatised after being literally thrown into the arms of strangers by their parents in an attempt to save them from the deadly cyclone.

About 200 arrive in the rescue centre every day, half of them children. But rescue workers say this is just a fragment of those who desperately need their help.

Many stranded

UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, visited the centre and explained to FRANCE 24, “When the cyclone comes in the area is just flooded, people run to the trees… but then we can’t reach them and many can’t swim. We now know we need about $30 million for the countries affected.”

World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman Herve Verhoosel said, "Now that the world is beginning to grasp the scale of devastation and despair in the wake of Cyclone Idai, we as an international community are at a crucial moment to act."

A week after Tropical Cyclone Idai lashed Mozambique with winds of nearly 200 kilometres per hour, survivors are struggling in desperate conditions with the WFP late Friday night declaring the crisis a level three emergency, putting it on a par with crises in Yemen, Syria and South Sudan.

Race against the clock

"The designation will accelerate the massive operational scale-up now underway to assist victims of last week's Category 4 cyclone and subsequent large-scale flooding that claimed countless lives and displaced at least 600,000 people," said the WFP’s Verhoosel.

Humanitarian agencies are racing against the clock to help people, many of whom have not had eaten for days.

"Already, some cholera cases have been reported in (the port city of) Beira along with an increasing number of malaria infections among people trapped by the flooding," the International Federation of the Red Cross said in a statement.

UN’s Fore said, “We are running out of time, it is at a critical point here."

Aid agencies have been shocked by the gravity of the cyclone and scale of the flooding it unleashed.

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