Soldiers and relief workers using helicopters and canoes have evacuated some 60,000 people from the flooded Zambezi River Valley in central Mozambique, where more than 100,000 others are at risk, officials said Monday.
More rains are forecast and floodgates that must be opened to save the wall of a massive hydroelectric dam will add to the dangers this week.
About 100 people have drowned or been electrocuted by downed power lines and hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes in torrential rains that have swamped a swath of southern Africa from Angola in the west to Mozambique in the east with Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe in between. Thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed. Bridges have collapsed and roads have been swept away.
The Zambezi, a floodplain river that crosses the continent and has three major dams, burst its banks weeks ago. Its swollen waters and those of its tributaries came together at Mozambique's northwestern Cahora Bassa hydroelectric dam. Officials began discharging water from the overflowing dam, which covers 2,700 square kilometers (more than 1,000 square miles), at a rate of up to 10,000 cubic meters (353,000 cubic feet) a minute last week. More floodgates must be opened this week to prevent the dam wall from bursting, authorities said. That will unleash walls of water that will bear down the Zambezi and sweep into the center of the country.
The Mozambicans are coordinating with water authorities in Zambia, where dams and reservoirs also are near capacity.
The director of Mozambique's National Disasters Management Office, Paola Zucula, told The Associated Press that 59,554 people have been evacuated from the Zambezi Valley in the past three days.
He said he had ordered an airborne rescue to start Sunday, with two helicopters joining a flotilla of boats and canoes manned by police and relief workers.
Still, Zucula said, of 164,000 people affected by the floods nationwide, 104,400 are still at risk, trapped by rising waters.
The main road being used to transport emergency supplies has been cut off by the floods, he said, hampering efforts and forcing authorities to use a cargo helicopter to ferry relief aid, reports AP.
The northern Zambian town of Luangwa has been cut off from the rest of the country since the Luangwa River burst its banks and submerged the only road access, officials said.
"Essential supplies to the district cannot be delivered, unless by air. If the situation continues for an extended period, the district will run out of essential supplies," said Trust Hakulipa, the disaster manager for Zambia's Red Cross society. An assessment team was unable to reach the town, he added.
Mozambique's prime minister, Luisa Diogo, has ordered the forcible removal of people in low-lying areas, amid reports that some peasant farmers were refusing to evacuate unless their cattle and goats also were rescued.