Cyclone Freddy teaches deadly lessons on storm warnings, city sprawl

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Days before Cyclone Freddy struck Mozambique on March 11 for the second time, cars with loudhailers moved through the streets of the port town of Quelimane warning residents to move to shelters on higher ground with stocks of food and water.

Most people heeded the warnings, knowing from bitter experience the damage such storms could inflict: 600 people died in Cyclone Idai in 2019.

“Local authorities came around my neighbourhood to alert us of the imminent danger. They blew the whistle,” recalled 31-year-old Quelimane resident Amelia Antonio.

Those preparations helped save lives in one of the strongest storms ever to hit Africa.

Mozambique has so far recorded 76 deaths, a relatively low toll compared with previous such disasters.

The storm was far more deadly in neighbouring Malawi, where at least 447 were killed as Freddy tore through the country’s southern tip and inundated the main commercial hub of Blantyre.

There, warnings were inconsistent and often unheeded by residents, many of whom told Reuters they did not know where to go if they did leave their homes.