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Southern Africa's Cyclone Freddy set to be one of the longest and strongest ever

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Turning overseas now, Tropical Storm Freddy is ripping through southern Africa for the second time in a month. It is now the strongest cyclone on record and one of the longest-lasting, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Kate Bartlett reports from South Africa.

KATE BARTLETT, BYLINE: Rescuers were digging through the mud with hoes and even their bare hands in parts of southern Malawi on Tuesday after Freddy wreaked havoc, causing rivers to overflow, buildings to collapse and landslides.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUSHING)

BARTLETT: One of those affected, Robert Khembo, recounted the horror to Reuters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT KHEMBO: (Non-English language spoken).

BARTLETT: "It was too bad in the night. But now that it is daytime," he says, "I have never seen something terrible like this. My neighbor's houses are all gone. The family members are gone. They are missing."

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

BARTLETT: Power lines are down, and problems with telecommunications are hampering the search efforts. Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera has declared a state of disaster. Before Freddy hit, Malawi was already suffering from its deadliest-ever cholera outbreak, and there are now concerns the flooding could aggravate the situation. Freddy is a record-breaking cyclone. It formed off the coast of Australia a month ago and then crossed the southern Indian Ocean. It has recorded more energy during that time than an entire U.S. hurricane season. It made landfall on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar before moving into Mozambique in late February. It then did a loop, hitting Mozambique again over the weekend and then Malawi. Scientists say climate change accounts for the strengthening of such tropical storms. Mary Galvin, a professor in development studies at the University of Johannesburg who works on climate issues, said despite being a low emitter, Africa is going to bear the brunt of such increased weather phenomenon.

MARY GALVIN: We'll see more devastation like that wrought by Cyclone Freddy. It's expected the African continent will be devastated by such events disproportionately affecting the poor and vulnerable.

BARTLETT: Freddy is expected to leave Malawi by the end of Wednesday. For NPR News, I'm Kate Bartlett in Johannesburg.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "TIMID, INTIMIDATING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Bartlett

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