Cyclone Freddy’s death toll in Malawi likely to exceed 1 200 as hope for survivors fades

cyclone freddy march 1 2023 nasa imerg f

Over 1 200 people are feared dead in Malawi as Cyclone Freddy’s catastrophic aftermath leads authorities to declare missing individuals deceased.

  • Very Intense Tropical Cyclone Freddy has made history as the longest-lasting and highest-ACE-producing tropical cyclone ever recorded worldwide. The storm traversed the southern Indian Ocean for over five weeks between February and March 2023, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.
  • Freddy was the fourth named storm of the 2022/23 Australian region cyclone season, and the second very intense tropical cyclone of the 2022/23 South-West Indian Ocean cyclone season.
  • The cyclone made its second landfall in central Mozambique on March 11 and weakened as it moved northward inland over Zambezia and Tete provinces in Mozambique and southern Malawi.

The death toll from Cyclone Freddy in Malawi is expected to exceed 1 200, as authorities announced on Thursday, March 30, 2023, that hundreds of missing individuals would be declared dead due to the dwindling chances of finding survivors.

Earlier this month, the cyclone brought six months’ worth of rainfall in just six days to southern Malawi, causing floods and mudslides that destroyed homes, roads, and bridges in an unprecedented deluge.

So far, 676 people have been confirmed dead, with 538 still missing. Police spokesman Harry Namwaza informed AFP that the missing would be presumed dead once rescue operations were completed, with some areas still being accessed. Charles Kalemba, disaster management commissioner, expressed on Wednesday that the chances of finding anyone alive were slim as rescue efforts scaled back.

Over 430 km² (170 mi2) of land was flooded by the cyclone, leading numerous smallholder farmers to lose their crops and fields to the storm. About 204 833 ha (506 095 acres) of cropland were inundated, with 84 930 ha (209 916 acres) submerged and 119 930 ha (296 179 acres) washed away. Freddy struck just as farmers were preparing for harvest, exacerbating local food insecurities in the nation. Farms suffered significant damage, with many destroyed. Livestock was severely affected, resulting in 194 500 deaths and an additional 91 000 injuries.

Cyclone Freddy initially struck southern Africa in late February, impacting Madagascar and Mozambique but sparing Malawi. The storm then moved back over the Indian Ocean, gaining strength from the warm waters before making a rare course reversal and hitting the mainland again. The overall death toll across all affected countries could reach nearly 1 400 if all of Malawi’s missing are declared dead.

198 deaths were reported in Mozambique, 17 in Madagascar, 2 in Zimbabwe, and 1 in Mauritius, as of March 31.

tc freddy track
Tropical Cyclone “Freddy” track — February 5 – March 4, 2023. Credit: Tomer Burg/troPYcal
YouTube video


1 Malawi’s cyclone toll to reach 1,200 as hopes fade – AFP – March 30, 2023

2 Malawi: Tropical Cyclone Freddy – OCHA – Flash Update No. 9 (March 25, 2023)

Featured image credit: NASA/IMERG


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