South Africa readies for Moz rescue operation
By Marco Granelli, Paul Fauvet and Reuters
A South African Air Force reconnaissance team was due to arrive in flood-hit Mozambique on Tuesday to plan the urgent deployment of a large rescue mission later this week as the fast-rising Zambezi River threatened more villages, crops and a new sugar mill.
The SAAF has provisionally planned to send six helicopters and one extra fixed-wing aircraft, responding to the Mozambican government's appeal for assistance to its own air-rescue team, which is failing to airlift people and equipment fast enough to cope with a large surge expected this week.
Both the giant Kariba and Cahora Bassa dams upstream on the Zambezi are being forced to open more of their floodgates, sending a large surge down to the already-saturated lower reaches of the river.
Water has continued to pour into the dam from Zambia and Zimbabwe
Marromeu town is already cut off by road from the rest of the country. The town's defenders have been shoring up its protective dyke, but a large surge is likely to overwhelm the defences.
Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia says it is imperative to save the recently rehabilitated sugar mill at Marromeu, owned by a Mauritian consortium. The mill and its plantations are the largest employer in Marromeu.
The factory is likely to be inundated - but Muteia told Radio Mozambique there was still time to dismantle and move machinery, and thus save it from destruction.
From Thursday to Sunday, the amount of water discharged from Cahora Bassa, downstream of Kariba, almost doubled. On Friday, the discharges were increased from 3 800 to 4 739 cubic metres a second. On Saturday, the figure rose to 6 100 cubic metres a second, and on Sunday to 7 500 cubic metres a second.
In Zambia, many farmers will lose their crops due to flooding
Water had continued to pour into the dam from Zambia and Zimbabwe. Measured at the dam wall on Friday, the lake was just 1m short of the level of alert, which is 326m.
The SAAF team due in Mozambique today will assess what equipment and personnel are required for the rescue mission, which sources said would get under way by Thursday.
Contingency plans have been made to deploy four Oryx and two BK 117 helicopters and one Casa light transport support aircraft. This is only slightly smaller than last year's operation, when five Oryx, one BK 117 and three support fixed-wing aircraft were deployed.
Sources said helicopter crews from 17 Squadron in Pretoria, 19 Squadron in Durban and the Louis Trichardt-based 15 Squadron were on standby.
The mission will probably be based in Beira, where Mozambican officials and international aid agencies are co-ordinating the evacuation and rescue of people in the Zambezi Valley to the north.
These officials said on Monday that evacuation and rescue operations in the valley and the central district of Marromeu were continuing slowly because of a lack of air support.
Silvano Langa, director of Mozambique's National Institute for Disaster Management, said rescuers had four to five days before a fresh wave of water hit the towns of Marromeu and Luabo.
"Our major concern is Marromeu and Luabo, where there are about 80 000 people. This is a very low-lying area," he said.
One Mozambican army helicopter was working in the danger area and another would be deployed soon. More rescue teams and small boats were also being sent, but Langa said it was not enough. Aircraft are desperately needed because the main road from the port of Beira to Caia was cut off due to flooding. "If we have 10 helicopters we will be in a position to do a good job of evacuation," Langa said.
World Food Programme officer Inyene Udoyen said: "We are planning more flights today. More people arrived at the camps yesterday and we expect more to arrive today."
Further south, the Save River basin was on alert after the river flooded earlier in the day, threatening 30 000 people.
Mozambique has appealed for R230-million in aid and aircraft as it battles floods that have affected almost 400 000 people in the central provinces of Zambezia, Sofala, Manica and Tete. More than 77 000 people are homeless and at least 41 have died.
Southern Africa is expected to be hit by more heavy rains next month as a volatile weather system batters Mozambique and neighbouring states, the South African Weather Bureau said on Monday.
The rains lashing southern Africa this year are caused by a low-pressure system over Botswana and tropical air moving in from the north.
Weather forecaster Evert Scholtz said the worst may not be over yet. "This is the season for tropical air and tropical cyclones. It ends only late in March. For the coming month it is still possible that we will see further systems like this."
In Malawi, flooding has displaced thousands of people around the Shire
River. As many as 50 000 hectares of crops have been destroyed by floods
in 13 districts declared disaster areas. And in Zambia, many farmers will
lose their crops due to flooding, the Zambian meteorological department
said on Monday.
Published on the Web by IOL on 2001-02-26 20:40:11
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