Southern Africa swamped by rains

BY SUSAN KIM | WASHINGTON | February 14, 2000

Rivers at their highest levels in 50 years in South Africa and Mozambique have left a trail of death and destruction that isn't expected to end anytime soon.

At least 43 have died as a result of flooding caused by torrential rains that swamped parts of southern Africa and cut off links between South Africa and Mozambique.

As displaced people flock to churches and makeshift relief centers, the U.S.-based faith community is responding.

Church World Service (CWS) received a request from the Mozambican Council of Churches for assistance, and is currently coordinating with Action by Churches Together (ACT) with plans to issue a financial appeal for emergency relief. ACT is a relief agency of Protestant and

Orthodox churches coordinated through the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation, both based in Geneva, Switzerland.

During international disasters, CWS usually works through ACT and also sends relief items such as health kits, cleanup kits, and layette kits.

Cash donations enable items to be purchased in bulk or purchased locally, boosting economies weakened by disaster.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which issued a report describing the flooding as "catastrophic," has been in communication with Methodist leaders in both South Africa and Mozambique as well as with the South African Council of Churches. UMCOR is sending emergency funds to these partners so they can purchase tents, food, medicine, and other relief items. Donors can designate funds for either South Africa or Mozambique at this point. UMCOR will also coordinate with ACT after an appeal is issued.

The flood has swept away homes, caused landslides, and cut off roads and communications. UMCOR officials also reported that, at this time,

cash contributions are the best way for individuals to help.

Residents from the community of Alexandra, threatened by the rising Jukskei River, took shelter in churches and schools. An emergency

services rescue team that covers the greater Johannesburg area is also assisting affected residents.

Emergency officials said at this time, it is difficult to estimate how many people have been left homeless. One Rhema Church center reported

more than 100 displaced people had come to the church for shelter.

The raging Jukskei River swept away shacks and anyone who did not evacuate. Many residents had to flee with no belongings. Residents

are lining up under still-pouring rain behind vans that are distributing clothes and food from All Nations Ministries. Emergency officials say they are concerned about people who refuse to evacuate.

Roads in this township and others are filled with water, and rivers continue to eat away the banks directly underneath shacks and homes.

Across South African and Mozambique, roads are cut off and water levels are still rising. People are being advised to evacuate but not to

cross rivers that may look less deep or swift than they really are.

Rain continues in most areas, and potable water is becoming more and more scarce. Flooding has cut off a road linking Botswana to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Links between Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa are also impassable at this time.

In Mozambique, four people died when a bus was swept away by raging floodwaters. Hundreds of traders and tourists were stranded when the major road between Mozambique and South Africa was cut off. Some 800 trucks are also stranded on the Botswana side of the border by high waters.

South Africa is providing aid to Mozambique, where floods have isolated cities, leaving more than 100,000 needing aid. Officials are

concerned about the onset of disease.

In Mozambique's capital of Maputa, floodwaters damaged sanitation facilities, making the risk high for an outbreak of cholera or malaria.

Mosquitoes that carry malaria live in stagnant water, and malaria is already Mozambique's biggest killer. More than two million people are

infected each year, and as many as one in seven die.

The floodwaters also destroyed crucial crops, and caused major damage in South Africa's famed Kruger National Park. Scores of tourists

were evacuated from the park on Wednesday, disrupting one of South Africa's largest cash earners.

The torrential rains stretched across the South African provinces of Northern, Mpumalanga, and Gauteng. Many dams overflowed, as rivers

swept away bridges and roads.

The Northern and Mpumalanga provinces were worst affected, with more than 30 of the 43 deaths occurring in those regions. One was an 80-year-old woman whose house collapsed on her. Weather forecasters are predicting more rains and thunderstorms through next week. Damages have already been estimated at $39.4 million.

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