Record-breaking storm Freddy due to hit Mozambique again

MAPUTO, March 10 (Reuters) - Tropical storm Freddy is due to hit the coast of Southern Africa again early on Saturday, after killing at least 27 people in Mozambique and Madagascar since it first made landfall last month.

One of the strongest storms ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, Freddy may also have broken the record for the longest-lasting tropical cyclone, according to the World Meteorological Organization, which said the current record is held by a 31-day hurricane in 1994.

Freddy was first named on Feb. 6, 33 days ago.

More than 171,000 people were affected after the cyclone swept through southern Mozambique two weeks ago, bringing heavy rains and floods that damaged crops and destroyed houses, according to United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA.

OCHA on Friday put Freddy's latest death toll at 27, 10 in Mozambique and 17 in Madagascar.

As many as 565,000 people could be at risk in Mozambique this time around in Zambezia, Tete, Sofala and Nampula provinces, with Zambezia expected to be the hardest hit, according to the country's national disaster management agency.

Its central region director Nelson Ludovico said the agency was preparing for the storm's landfall in the early hours of Saturday and had moved people to makeshift shelters.

"It's a slow-moving cyclone. This is bad news in terms of rainfall because it means it's hovering quite close to the coast and it's picking up more moisture, so the rainfall will be heavier," Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told reporters in Geneva.

The storm is likely to cause extreme rainfall over large parts of Mozambique as well as northeastern Zimbabwe, southeast Zambia and Malawi, she said.

Around the world, climate change is making hurricanes wetter, windier and more intense, scientists say. Oceans absorb much of the heat from greenhouse gas emissions, and when warm seawater evaporates its heat energy is transferred to the atmosphere, fuelling stronger storms.

Freddy has set a record for the highest accumulated cyclone energy, a measure of the storm's strength over time, of any southern hemisphere storm in history, according to the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

The storm has generated about as much accumulated cyclone energy on its own as an average North Atlantic hurricane season, said Nullis.

"World record or not, Freddy will remain in any case an exceptional phenomenon for the history of the South-West Indian Ocean on many aspects: longevity, distance covered, remarkable maximum intensity, accumulated cyclone energy amount, (and) impact on inhabited lands," said Sebastien Langlade, a cyclone forecaster at the Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre in La Reunion, in a statement from the WMO.

Reporting by Nellie Peyton in Johannesburg and Manuel Mucari in Maputo; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Geneva and Bhargav Acharya in Johannesburg; Editing by Alexander Winning, Angus MacSwan and Christina Fincher

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