The cyclone that slammed into southern Africa last week has created a slowly unfolding disaster that could be among the worst in the Southern Hemisphere's history, aid workers say. The official death toll from Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe is below 400, but more than 2.6 million people were affected and the true toll may not be known for months, the Guardian reports. Emergency workers say continuing heavy rains have caused the region's worst flooding in more than 20 years, reports the AP. In Mozambique, flooding has created "inland oceans extending for miles and miles in all directions," says Herve Verhoosel of the United Nations' World Food Program. "This is a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour." Beira, a port city in Mozambique with a population of 500,000, has been devastated and is cut off from the rest of the country.
Stranded people have been seen gathered on rooftops and clinging to trees, aid workers say. Verhoosel says desperately needed food aid has been distributed to the worst-hit areas by boat, helicopter, and plane, the New York Times reports. "Incredible" pilots have been flying into airports "damaged by the water, dark with no light or radio communication with the control tower," he says. Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi estimated Tuesday that the cyclone had killed more than 1,000 people in his country alone. World Meteorological Organization spokeswoman Clare Nullis says reports suggest that this could be "one of the worst weather-related disasters" in the hemisphere's history. (Read more cyclone stories.)