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Cyclone Leaves A Trail Of Death And Destruction In Southern Africa

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A rare, powerful cyclone has ravaged a good portion of southern Africa. Buildings have been ripped apart, villages submerged, roads and bridges completely washed out. Already across Zimbabwe and Malawi, more than 200 people have been killed. In Mozambique, the president there says the death toll could top 1,000. Here's NPR's Eyder Peralta.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Cyclone Idai made landfall last week, a rare, major storm taking direct aim at Mozambique's fourth-largest city. The wind and rain meant the roads in and out of Beira were impassable, and the airport didn't reopen until Sunday. That's when humanitarians with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies were able to get in by helicopter.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER BLADES WHIRRING)

PERALTA: And the images they sent in show sheer devastation - whole villages underwater, buildings and homes collapsed from the wind. According to IFRC's assessment, 90 percent of Beira was destroyed. President Filipe Nyusi went on his own air reconnaissance yesterday. When he came back, he gave a bleak assessment. The rain and storm surge had overwhelmed rivers. Whole villages had been washed away. From his helicopter, he could see bodies floating.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT FILIPE NYUSI: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: On state radio, he said the priority now is to save lives. By morning, three helicopters were helping to get people out of their flooded homes. But aid workers fear we still haven't seen the worst. The last road into Beira was washed away by a swollen river, and many of the places that really need help, they say, are still inaccessible. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF OTTO A. TOTLAND'S "RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 20, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of the headline on this story incorrectly said the cyclone has left a trail of death and destruction in South Africa. It should have said Southern Africa.