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Torrential rains may slam Mozambique late Sunday

Flooding in Mozambique has been the worst in 30 years  

Tropical depression Eline heads toward devastated African nation

February 22, 2000
Web posted at: 7:22 p.m. EST (0022 GMT)

MAPUTO, Mozambique (CNN) -- Tropical depression Eline continued to move toward Mozambique on Sunday, bringing torrential rains and gusting winds to a nation already ravaged by its worst flooding in 30 years.

The storm is expected to slam the central coast of this southeastern African nation late Sunday, according to the country's National Meteorology Institute.

Although the institute has downgraded the storm from a cyclone to a tropical depression, officials worry that the heavy rain and winds of up to 34 mph (55 km/h) could impede efforts to get help to stranded residents.

Even airlifts -- which organizations are using to get supplies to people penned in by water-logged roads -- can be perilous. A Mozambican airplane, flying medicine to the Palmeira region, crashed Saturday, injuring several people. The cause of the crash is unknown.

Still, the aid operations continue. The international group Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) and a number of government agencies are helping. One operation is rescuing people trapped along the Ingoma River, officials said.

"We're rushing to get high-energy food, shelter materials and collapsible tanks for safe water to these people," said Ian MacLeod, emergency coordinator for UNICEF. "The helicopters can punch through the rains, but with the strong winds it will be difficult."

The Mozambican government is appealing for nearly $3 million in aid to help the flood victims.

The United Nations is expected to launch an interagency appeal for the former Portuguese colony on Monday. Officials say food aid will be needed urgently for the next three months. Donors, including the United States and European countries, have already pledged more than $2 million.

In the worst-hit provinces, Maputo and Gaza, about 220,000 Mozambicans are estimated to have lost homes washed away by flooding during two weeks of steady rain. At times, rainfall levels have been as high as two feet in 24 hours.

The Southern Regional Water Board is urging people to remain on high alert. Authorities in Xai Xai are struggling to prevent waters from flooding the city completely.

In the Chibuto district, officials are threatening to use force to move people who refuse to leave their homes and farms. Some are reluctant to abandon their cattle, the main source of wealth in the region.

At least 48 people have been killed in the floods, local newspapers reported. About 800,000 residents are in danger of catching malaria, cholera and other water-borne diseases.

Aid organizations worked quickly to get emergency supplies airlifted by helicopters to stranded communities before the rains and winds hit the Limpopo Valley district. Neighboring South Africa has provided military helicopters to help.

The rains have also increased the danger of dislodged landmines, a legacy of the 16-year civil war that ended in 1992.

Cyclone Eline killed at least five people and left thousands homeless in Madagascar as it crossed the huge Indian Ocean island on Friday.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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