LILONGWE, Malawi — Cyclone Freddy, the longest-lasting tropical cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, swept in from the southeastern coast of Africa and traveled to the landlocked nation of Malawi, where by Monday it was responsible for at least 66 deaths, the Red Cross said.
Large swaths of Blantyre, the second-largest city in Malawi, were hit by flooding and mudslides, and the government declared a state of disaster.
Schools were closed, flights were canceled, and rescue workers frantically dug through mud and collapsed buildings in an effort to save lives. Police and aid workers said they anticipated that there would be more found dead and injured.
“The figures might rise because there is a lot of rubble, especially in Blantyre,” said Felix Washoni, spokesman for the Red Cross in Malawi. “There might be some bodies that are buried in the rubble.”
The storm has raged for 35 days, breaking the record for the longest and most sustained storm in the southern hemisphere, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It has caused major destruction in three countries: hitting the island nation of Madagascar, making landfall in Mozambique on the mainland on Saturday, and moving farther northwest into Malawi on Sunday.
In Mozambique, where 10 people have been reported killed, the authorities also expected the death toll to rise as rescue workers struggled to reach towns and villages cut off by the flooding.
“We have seen quite widespread devastation,” Guy Taylor, spokesman for the United Nations children’s agency Unicef, said from Quelimane, one of the worst hit towns in Mozambique. “Roofs ripped off of schools, of homes, of hospitals and clinics.”
In its unusual track, Cyclone Freddy has circled around and twice hit Mozambique and the island nation of Madagascar. On Freddy’s first pass through Mozambique, starting on Feb. 24, it left 10 people dead. In Madagascar, 17 people were killed.
The storm was still “alive” on Monday, said Wayne Venter, a meteorologist with the South African Weather Service. This could make Cyclone Freddy a contender for the longest-running storm in history, according to the World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency. More than 24 hours after it made landfall, heavy rain continued to fall in both Malawi and Mozambique.
The storm appeared more than a month ago and was named on Feb. 6, as it took shape near the northern coast of Australia. Then it began a journey of more than 4,000 miles across the Indian Ocean. Meteorologists have not seen that path in two decades, and only three other storms have been recorded traveling from the east to the west of the Indian Ocean, according to a tracking agency at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The World Meteorological Organization has set up a committee to evaluate whether Freddy had become the longest-lasting storm anywhere in the world, taking into account Freddy’s shifts in intensity. The record holder is Hurricane John, a storm in the Pacific in 1994 that lasted 31 days.
At its peak, Freddy sustained wind speeds of about 160 miles per hour, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, as such storms are known when they form in the Atlantic.
Cyclone Freddy’s devastation could worsen a cholera outbreak already underway in Malawi and Mozambique, authorities warned. In Malawi, more than 1,600 people have already died in the past year from cholera, a waterborne bacterial disease. With clinics and hospitals now destroyed and floodwaters spreading, both countries will struggle to contain the outbreak.
Golden Matonga reported from Lilongwe, Malawi, and Lynsey Chutel from East London, South Africa.