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Malawi warns of more rain as flood ravages country

16 January 2015, 16:32

Blantyre - Malawian authorities warned Friday that heavy rains were expected to continue as flood waters ravaged the country, leaving in their wake mass power outages, dozens dead and missing, and thousands displaced.

"What the country has witnessed is only the beginning of the onset of rains," Paul Chiunguzeni, principal secretary for Disaster Management Affairs, said in a statement.

"The government is urging people living in flood-prone districts to urgently relocate to upland areas to avoid losing more lives."

The floods, which have wreaked havoc on half the the country's 28 districts, have left an estimated 100,000 homeless.

Government on Tuesday put the death toll at 48, though Chiunguzeni would not provide an updated figure, saying teams had been sent to "source and verify information" on the number of people dead and missing.

He said about 1,180 flood victims stranded on patches of high ground in the flood-prone south have been evacuated since rescue missions with military helicopters and boats were launched Thursday.

And the rains are expected to continue.

Hein Zeelie of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the central and northern parts of the country were the agency's next concern "as we are expecting heavy rains for those areas for the next week".

"A lot of preparation activities have been taking place for the rainy season, but no matter how well prepared one could have been, the extreme amount of rainfall would have led to this situation."

Five major roads in the south have been closed after bridges were washed away, including some on the road to the prime tourist destination of Mangochi on the shores of Lake Malawi.

The country's sole electricity provider Escom lost 35 percent of its power after shutting down two of its five power stations located on Shire River.

This was after the floods left a "high volume of trash, silt and huge logs which have choked the water entry points of the machines," causing massive power outages across Malawi, according to Escom CEO John Kandulu.

Government has also warned of the impact the floods will have on health services, fearing the spread of water-borne diseases.

"The health care system will be disrupted as people will not get services and some might have lost their drugs such as ARVs. Children will not be vaccinated," said Malawi's health ministry spokesman Henry Chimbali.

"Sanitation will be compromised now with waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid likely to occur."

President Peter Mutharika has called the floods a "national tragedy that urgently needs both local and international response".

Across the border, Mozambican authorities have yet to confirm the number of dead, though local reports have put the number around 24.

Malawi and Mozambique share a river system, and Mozambique is also battling power outages and displacement due to the rising waters.

The country's weather service expects heavy rain in the south of the country until early Saturday, as the pressure eases in the central and northern areas.

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