Cyclone Idai heads for Mozambique. Picture: AFP
Cyclone Idai heads for Mozambique. Picture: AFP

Harare — At least 65 people have been confirmed dead in Zimbabwe as a result of tropical cyclone Idai, which has left a trail of destruction in the eastern province of Manicaland and neighbouring Mozambique.

The death toll is expected to rise as dozens of people remain missing.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is currently on a working visit to the United Arab Emirates, declared a state of emergency and appealed for aid. He said he would cut short his trip to lead relief efforts at home.

Most of the deaths were recorded in the eastern town of Chimanimani, which borders Mozambique.

The cyclone has been described as Zimbabwe’s worst since cyclone Eline of 2000, which claimed 90 lives. 

In a statement on Saturday, the ministry of information confirmed the deaths and said rescue efforts were under way.

“The government wishes to discourage any efforts to cross flooded rivers by individuals. We are receiving tragic reports of some people being swept away. We urge patience as rescue is on its way. Let us not have avoidable loss of human life. We have lost 31 Zimbabweans to #CycloneIdai,” the ministry said in a tweet.

Earlier, it said army helicopters had been sent to rescue marooned victims but bad weather was hampering evacuation efforts.

At one boarding school in the town of Chipinge, which also neighbours Mozambique, three pupils died after they were trapped in rubble after buildings were destroyed and roofs blown off.

An update from the civil protection unit said 80 people were missing while more than 100 houses had been destroyed.

Cyclone Idai also led to the destruction of bridges, massive flooding of bridges as well as cuts in power and communications. In SA, Eskom said 1,400MW of capacity was unavailable after the lines from Cahora Bassa in Mozambique were cut by the cyclone.

Deputy home affairs minister Mike Madiro appealed for “emergency assistance from both local and international agencies” as he said the situation had become desperate.

Cyclone Idai, which is carrying heavy rains and winds of up to 177km/h,  made landfall at the port city of Beira on Thursday evening and started moving west towards Zimbabwe on Saturday. The cyclone's impact has been worse in Mozambique and Malawi, where more than 400 people have been killed and thousands of homes destroyed.