At least 99 people have died after Tropical Cyclone Freddy caused floods, mudslides and wind damage in parts of Malawi. Earlier the storm had made a second landfall in Mozambique, where disaster authorities report at least 10 people have died and thousands have been displaced.
Freddy has been a named tropical cyclone for over 30 days as it crossed the entire South Indian Ocean and travelled more than 8,000 kilometres, affecting Mauritius and La Réunion on its long journey en route to making landfall in Madagascar on 21 February 2023.
The storm then spent several days tracking over Mozambique, bringing heavy rains and flooding. Freddy then remarkably looped back towards the Mozambique Channel and picked up energy from the warm waters and moved towards the southwestern coast of Madagascar, causing further flooding and damages on 05 March, before returning back towards Mozambique for a second time, and then on to Malawi.
After staying for several days in Mozambique, the Tropical Cyclone Freddy weather system re-emerged in the Mozambique Channel on 02 March 2023 and then approached the southwestern coast of Madagascar.
Disaster authorities in the country reported at least 10 people died and three were missing after Freddy brought heavy rains to the southwest of the island from 05 March.
Over 72,600 people were affected by the storm’s second impact, including 24,300 who were displaced in the regions of Menabe and Atsimo Andrefana, according to reports by the National Bureau of Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC). It is estimated that about 12,400 houses (6,000 flooded, 900 damaged and 5,500 destroyed) and 280 classrooms (158 destroyed, 67 damaged and 55 without roofs) were affected, leaving nearly 28,000 students without access to education.
This brings Freddy’s death toll in Madagascar to 17 (07 from the first landfall on 21 February and 10 from the latest rains), with nearly 299,000 people affected (226,000 in the southeast, and over 72,600 in the south-west). The UN said that an estimated 148,000 are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Freddy made its second landfall in Mozambique as a severe tropical cyclone during the evening of 11 March 2023 in the district of Namacurra, Zambézia province, with maximum winds of 148 km/h and gusts up to 213 km/h.
Rainfall of 200 to 300 mm was expected, with as much as 400-500 mm expected in areas close to the landfall location. This is more than twice the usual monthly rainfall in a matter of days.
Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Risk Management and Reduction (INGD), reported 10 fatalities in Zambézia Province, as of 13 March. A further 14 people were injured. INGD said 832 houses were destroyed and 1,050 damaged, mostly as a result of strong winds. Fourteen health centres were also damaged or destroyed, along with stretches of roads which were impassable in 9 locations. Thirty-five evacuation centres were accommodating 22,116 people from over 4,000 families.
The World Food Programme in Mozambique also reported heavy rains have damaged several houses forcing families to move to accommodation centres in Mutarara in Tete province in central Mozambique.
Previously, over 170,000 people were affected by heavy rains and floods following Storm Freddy’s first landfall in the country, in Inhambane province on 24 February. A total of 10 people lost their lives, 10 were injured and 5,100 were displaced. More than 30,000 houses were affected, including 14,600 which were damaged, 1,900 destroyed and 13,500 flooded, according to the National Institute for Disaster Management (INGD) as of 06 March. An estimated 56,900 hectares of crops were damaged.
The United Nations said that the confluence of the multiple crises of Tropical Cyclone Freddy – flooding in southern and central areas including in the capital Maputo, and rising cholera cases – is compounding a severe humanitarian situation in Mozambique.
As of 12 March, the cumulative number of cholera cases stood at 8,465 cases across 32 districts. This is an increase of 1,114 in the last week.
Tropical Cyclone Freddy entered Malawi on 12 March 2023 near the city of Nsanje in the Southern Region.
On 13 March, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) in Malawi reported flooding, mudslides and strong winds caused damage in Blantyre, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Mulanje, Nsanje, Phalombe and Thyolo District Councils.
In total, 99 deaths have been recorded with 16 people reported missing. Currently, councils are conducting assessments to establish the full extent of damage and assist all those in need.
Reports from Blantyre District indicate that 85 people have died and 134 people have been injured following Freddy-induced heavy rains and mudslides, DoDMA said. The reports further indicate that 16 people are missing and that 300 households (approximately 1,350 people) people have been affected; out of which 46 households (approximately 207 people) have been displaced and have sought refuge at Manja Camp and Naotcha Primary School.
In Blantyre City, the council has recorded 10 deaths, with nine registered in Ndirande Township. In Chikwawa, 1,112 households (approximately 5,004 people) have been displaced with one death and three injuries recorded. Around 1,300 households (approximately 5,850 people) have been displaced in Nsanje, with one death recorded. In Chiradzulu, 170 households (approximately 765 people) have been affected, with two deaths and two injuries recorded.
In Thyolo District, the council reports that 11 households (approximately 50 people) have been displaced. Three people were injured in Phalombe.
Meanwhile, the department, humanitarian partners and councils are facilitating the provision of relief assistance to affected and displaced households, with search and rescue operations led by the Malawi Defence Force, the Malawi Police Service, the Department of Marine and the Malawi Red Cross Society.
“DoDMA has readily available relief items in strategic places and has since dispatched the items for use by displaced and affected communities. At Manja and Naotcha camps, the department, in collaboration with humanitarian partners; has provided blankets, maize flour, beans and soya pieces,” the Department said.
In a report of 11 March 2023, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) described Freddy as a “remarkable storm”.
Freddy has been a named tropical cyclone for over 30 days, crossed the entire South Indian Ocean and travelled more than 8,000 kilometres, affecting Mauritius and La Réunion on its long journey en route to Madagascar.
“This kind of super zonal track is very rare. The most recent recorded cases were Tropical Cyclones Leon-Eline and Hudah, both in 2000, which like 2023 was a la Niña year,” WMO said.
WMO is monitoring whether Freddy will set a new record as the longest-lasting tropical cyclone. It is likely that the WMO Weather and Climate Extremes evaluation committee will set up an investigation after the cyclone has dissipated.
“The WMO Weather and Climate Extremes Archive are currently assembling a blue-ribbon international committee of scientists. Once the tropical cyclone has dissipated, these experts will begin a detailed examination of the raw data to determine if Freddy has indeed established a record as the longest-duration tropical cyclone on record. One question that we will be addressing is the fact that throughout its long lifetime, the storm has periodically weakened below tropical storm status. We will obviously need to address if that is a concern in our evaluation,” said Professor Randall Cerveny, WMO Weather and Climate Extremes rapporteur.
“Our evaluations are detailed scientific inquiries so they do take time,” he said.
The current record is held by Hurricane/Typhoon John, which lasted 31 days in 1994.
The accumulated cyclone energy (index used to measure the energy) is the equivalent of an average full North Atlantic hurricane season. According to NASA, Freddy has set the record for having the highest accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) of any southern hemisphere storm in history. ACE is an index used to measure the total amount of wind energy associated with a tropical cyclone over its lifetime.
“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 (ACE) amount, impact on inhabited lands … but it will be necessary to wait until the system ends its life cycle to make an exhaustive assessment,” said Sebastien Langlade, Head of Operations at RSMC La Réunion.