Mozambican look to God as cyclone deaths rise, fears of disease

BEIRA – Worshippers gathered at battered churches in the Mozambican port of Beira on Sunday, praying for divine protection as the death toll crept up from a cyclone and floods around southern Africa.

“We asked Jesus to protect us so that this does not happen again,” said congregant and survivor Maria Domingas, 60, who saw trees crashing into her house and water filling her bedroom.

Cyclone Idai hit Beira, on the Indian Ocean, with winds up to 170km/h (105mph), before barrelling inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening homes and killing at least 656 people.

Mozambique’s death toll rose to 446 from 417, a government minister said on Sunday. In Zimbabwe, UN agencies have given different tolls of 259 and 154, while in Malawi 56 people died in heavy rains ahead of Idai.

At the Universal Church in Beira, evangelical Christians gathered in the patio due to heavy damage from the cyclone. The sheet metal roof had caved in, cables draped across wooden chairs, and the floor was a mess of broken rubble.

The congregation stretched arms skywards and swayed in prayer. “You can see the strength in their eyes,” said the 36-year-old pastor, known as Junior. “From today, we are looking forward.”

As he led the service with some 150 people, a piece of partly detached roof rattled in the wind.

“Only with God can we move forward,” said Rosa Manuel, 59, who lost a house she had built to rent.

Mozambique’s Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia said the cyclone had affected 531,000 people in his country, with 110,000 people in makeshift camps

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