MAPUTO (Reuters) - A powerful tropical storm that struck Mozambique lost some of its fury on Friday but left a trail of destruction and may have forced thousands of people from their homes, officials said.
Cyclone Favio, which has killed four people and injured at least 70 in the resort town of Vilanculos, was downgraded to a tropical storm as wind speeds dropped from a peak of 270 kph (170 mph) to between 60-80 kph (35-70 mph).
Officials fear it still may take its rain toward the Zambezi river basin, where several weeks of flooding had already displaced more than 120,000 people.
Authorities and humanitarian agencies are already battling to keep tens of thousands of flood refugees in central Mozambique supplied with food and fresh water.
Joao Ribeiro, the deputy national director of the National Institute for Disaster Management, INGC, said as many as 93,000 people may have been driven from their homes.
“The numbers are still coming in ... there is a communication problem,” he told Reuters.
“There was too much damage and we have dispatched a team from several ministries to potentially affected areas where we think things may have gone worse.”
Francois Goemans, the European Commission’s humanitarian expert for southern African, and a team of medical experts are soon due to arrive in Vilanculos to offer emergency health services and distribute clean water.
“We were very worried that the possible combination between the flood and cyclone would result in a situation like 2001. As far as we understand it is not the case,” Goemans told Reuters by phone from Chimoi, capital or Manica province.
The former Portuguese colony, rising from a devastating 16- year political conflict, saw its worst disaster on record in 2000-2001 when a series of cyclones compounded widespread flooding in southern and central parts of the country, killing 700 people and driving close to half a million from their homes.
Ribeiro said the worst hit districts besides Vilanculos were Inhassorro and Govuro in the south, where roads were cut-off, trees uprooted and the rooftops of 10 schools ripped off.
“There are so many vulnerable people living in these districts, and we are still checking whether there are some people stranded or even injured,” he said.
The government has dispatched a 100-strong military contingent to affected areas to try and keep hospitals and vital state institutions running, and U.N. and government agencies have arrived in Vilanculos for relief efforts, he added.
Mozambican weather institute (INAM) said the cyclone’s strength had tapered and it was headed to the central town of Caia and the northern port city of Beira.
Both Ribeiro and Vilanculos’ mayor, Sulemane Amugy, were unable to contact the popular tourist destination of Bazaruto Island. It is not known whether tourists were on the island.
“We don’t have a helicopter and we can’t send boats there because the weather in the sea is still very bad,” Amugy told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Sarah McGregor