Almost 200 people are dead and tens of thousands affected in Southern Africa after a tropical cyclone, which at 34 days could be the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record, hit a second time in the course of a few weeks, following a first landfall in February. It’s officially the most energetic storm on record.
Tropical Cyclone Freddy made landfall in Mozambique on Saturday and moved over to Malawi on Sunday, where it did the brunt of its damage: at least 190 people in Malawi are dead, the BBC reported, with 158 of those casualties in Blantyre, Malawi’s second-largest city. At least 27 people were killed when the storm made landfall last month.
Rescue efforts are still ongoing for survivors in both countries. The extent of the damage in Mozambique is still unknown, since the storm cut off power and phone lines in some regions, the Guardian reported.
“We saw a lot of destroyed buildings and clinics,” Guy Taylor, who works with Unicef in Mozambique, told Reuters. “People’s homes had their roofs torn off by the wind. Even before the cyclone hit we saw localised flooding.”
In Malawi, the government has declared a state of disaster in several districts. Dozens of the 158 killed in Blantyre were children, the BBC reported, while the country’s disaster agency said that at least 20,000 people have been displaced.
Freddy first hit Mozambique on February 24, after making landfall over Madagascar. It strengthened again over warm waters as it meandered in the Mozambique Channel before heading back for the coast this weekend.
CNN reported that more than 171,000 people were impacted by the storm last month, while Reuters reported that Mozambique has seen a years’ worth of rainfall over the past month.
Freddy, which the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) called a “remarkable storm,” developed off the coast of South Australia in early February, where it was given its name by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. (The term “cyclone” is used for storms that reach 74 miles per hour [119 kilometers per hour] that form over the South Pacific and Indian Oceans; they’re called “hurricanes” when they form over the Atlantic Ocean.) Over the course of its lifespan, the storm has traveled over the entire Indian Ocean—some 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers)—affecting the islands of both Mauritius and La Réunion and making landfall in Madagascar before hitting Mozambique the first time.
The WMO said on Friday, before Freddy made landfall again, that it was setting up an expert committee to evaluate whether or not the storm was the longest-lasting tropical cyclone ever recorded. Over the weekend, Freddy also broke a record for the most energetic storm on record, achieving a never-before-seen score of 86 of Accumulated Cyclone Energy, or ACE, a measure of a storm’s strength and longevity.
The current record for longest-lasting storm was set in 1994, when Hurricane/Typhoon John lasted for 31 days; Freddy has been a named cyclone for more than 34 days. And Freddy is not just potentially the longest-lasting cyclone on record: the last time a tropical cyclone traveled the Indian Ocean like this was in 2000. Freddy is one of only four storms to make that journey.
“This kind of super zonal track is very rare,” the WMO said in a release last week.
The storms in this region are particularly concerning, given an ongoing cholera outbreak in Malawi, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday. Malawi is currently experiencing the worst cholera outbreak it has seen in decades: an outbreak that began last February has led to 29,000 reported cases and more than 900 people dead, the International Federation of Red Cross said last month. Cholera, which spreads through contaminated food and water, can be exacerbated by climate disasters like tropical storms, which can destroy water sanitation systems and infrastructure and help spread the disease.
There are definitive links between strong storms like Freddy and climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its groundbreaking recent 2021 report, found that heavy rains have increased as the planet has warmed, making storms more intense. It concluded there is likely a link between the increase in typhoons and hurricanes since the 1970s and climate change.
Last year, Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar saw widespread devastation from Tropical Storm Ana, which killed at least 88 people.