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Lightning kills six in Madagascar

The relatives – including a 3-year-old – had taken shelter from a storm

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Six people from the same family were “killed on the spot” by a lightning strike in Madagascar over the weekend while sheltering from a storm, officials said Monday.

The relatives — including a three-year-old child — were killed in the central village of Bakaro on Saturday. Another person suffered superficial burns.

“Twenty-five farmers sheltering from rain under a thatched cottage after leaving their rice field were hit by a lightning bolt,” said medical inspector William Patrick Rakotondralambo of the Fitsinjovana commune.

“Six people from the same family were killed on the spot, including a three-year-old child,” he added.

Eight survivors were treated for shock, Rakotondralambo said.

Lightning strikes are relatively common in Madagascar, an Indian Ocean island famed for its unique wildlife and well-known for its vanilla and precious redwood.

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Deaths in Mozambique and Zimbabwe cyclone have exceeded 300

Mozambique’s government has declared a national emergency and ordered three days of national mourning.

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An aerial view of tents set up for displaced people, after the tropical cyclone Idai made landfall near the heavily-populated Mozambican port city of Beira - AFP

The death toll from a cyclone that smashed into Mozambique and Zimbabwe rose to more than 300 as rescuers raced against the clock to help survivors and the UN led the charge to provide aid.

“We already have more than 200 dead, and nearly 350,000 people are at risk,” Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi announced Tuesday, while the government in Zimbabwe said around 100 people had died but the toll could be three times that figure.

The UN, meanwhile, said that one of the worst storms to hit southern Africa in decades had also unleashed a humanitarian crisis in Malawi, affecting nearly a million people and forcing more than 80,000 from their homes.

Four days after Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall, emergency teams in central Mozambique fanned out in boats and helicopters, seeking to pluck survivors from roofs and treetops in an inland sea of floodwater, sometimes in the dead of night.

Air force personnel from Mozambique and South Africa were drafted in to fly rescue missions, while an NGO called Rescue South Africa said it had picked up 34 people since Friday night, using three helicopters.

“It is the only way to access the people that are stranded,” Rescue SA’s Abrie Senekal told AFP, saying the NGO was trying to hire more helicopters.

‘Like a tsunami’

Scher, who heads Rescue SA, said the helicopter teams were having to make difficult decisions.

“Sometimes we can only save two out of five, sometimes we drop food and go to someone else who’s in bigger danger,” he said.

“We just save what we can save and the others will perish.”

In Nhamatanda, some 60 kilometres northwest of Beira, 27-year-old Jose Batio and his wife and children survived by climbing onto a roof.

But a lot of their neighbours “were swept by the water,” he said.

“Water came like a tsunami and destroyed most things. We were prisoners on the roof,” he told AFP after they were rescued by boat.

The city of Beira, Mozambique’s second largest city and a major port, was immediately cut off after the storm. According to the Red Cross, the cyclone damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the city of half a million people.

President Nyusi, speaking on Tuesday after attending a cabinet meeting in the ravaged city, said the confirmed death toll stood at 202 and nearly 350,000 were “at risk”.

The government had declared a national emergency and ordered three days of national mourning, he said.

“We are in an extremely difficult situation,” Nyusi said, warning of high tides and waves of around eight metres (26 feet) in the coming days.

On Monday, Nyusi had said he feared more than 1,000 had died and more than 100,000 people were in danger.

Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world, was also hit by deadly floods in 2000 that killed 800 people and left at least 50,000 homeless.

Zimbabwe toll

The storm also lashed eastern Zimbabwe, leaving around 100 dead, a toll that could be as much as 300, local government minister July Moyo said after a cabinet briefing.

“I understand there are bodies which are floating, some have floated all the way to Mozambique,” he said.

“The total number, we were told they could be 100, some are saying there could be 300. But we cannot confirm this situation,” he said.

At least 217 others are missing and 44 stranded, officials said.

Worst hit was Chimanimani in Manicaland, an eastern province which borders Mozambique.

Families started burying their dead in damp graves on Monday, as injured survivors filled up the hospitals, an AFP correspondent said.

Military helicopters were airlifting people to Mutare, the largest city near Chimanimani.

The storm swept away homes and bridges, devastating huge areas in what Defence Minister Perrance Shiri said “resembles the aftermath of a full-scale war”.

Some roads were swallowed by massive sinkholes, while bridges were ripped to pieces by flash floods.

Aid ramps up

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it was mobilising aid for some 600,000 people, saying the world did not yet appreciate the scale of the “massive disaster”.

So far, it has dispatched more than five tonnes of emergency provisions to the affected areas.

“WFP aims to support 500,000 to 600,000 people in the coming weeks,” spokesman Herve Verhoosel told reporters in Geneva.

“I don’t think that the world (has) realised yet the scale of the problem.”

In Malawi, 920,000 people have been affected by the cyclone and 82,000 people have been displaced, the UN said.

“OCHA (the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) has deployed resources to support assessments and information management, and UNICEF is deploying additional supplies to affected areas including tents, water and sanitation supplies and learning materials to affected children,” it said.

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Weather Reports & Forecasts

Africa is the hottest continent in the world

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A young man stands at the dried inland Lake Chilwa's Chisi Island harbour in Zomba District, eastern Malawi - Photo: AFP

Situated between 37° north and 34° south, Africa mainly lies within tropics. Only the northern and southern tips have a Mediterranean climate. Africa is therefore a predominantly warm continent. The mean annual temperature is above 20°C throughout the tropics, and annual daily temperatures are only higher in the desert. The rains determine the climate. The equatorial climate extends over the Congo Basin, on either side of the equator. Temperatures are high and vary only slightly over the year (25°C on average). There is regular rainfall, totalling in excess of 1,500 mm, and sometimes as much as 2,000 mm.

The tropical climate is characterized by alternating dry and rainy season. The difference between the seasons becomes more marked the nearer o the tropics; similarly, there is a greater variation in temperatures and total rainfall decreases. Due to the size of the continent, the influence of latitude predominant in the northern hemisphere; there is a series of tropical belts parallel to the equator.

The wet tropical climate is similar to the equatorial climate in the c amount of rainfall, but there are two dry seasons of unequal duration (August and December to March in the northern hemisphere). This type of climate prevails along the Gulf of Guinea, from Sierra Leone to Cote d’Ivoire. In the Great lakes  region, apart from on high ground, rainfall is less than 1,500 mm per annum. In the dry tropical, or Sudanese, climate, the dry season lasts longer (three to six months on average) the nearer one is to the tropics. The drought is accentuated by the harmattan, a dry, warm wind that blows towards the Atlantic. The wet season, known as the Hivernage, arrives when the sun reaches its zenith. The annual rainfall exceeds 1,000 mm in the south of Mali but remains below 800 mm to the north of Nigeria. The climate in the Sahel is affected by increasingly rare rainfall (less than 500 mm), which only occurs during a short period (three months at the most); there is also extreme irregularity from one year to the next. Temperatures, much higher than in the wet regions, can reach 40°C at the end of the dry season.

South of the equator, the seasons are the reverse of the northern hemisphere and the climate zones run from east to west. Arid and semi-arid zones are confined to the south-west, whereas the coastal strip along the Indian Ocean, to the south­east, has a very wet climate (monsoon). On average, temperatures are lower than in the northern hemisphere. These differences are linked to the proximity of the sea and the relatively high relief in the southern part of the continent. In Madagascar, the eastern side of the island is very wet as it is exposed to trade winds (over 2,000 mm of rainfall per year), as opposed to the western side which is “downwind” and much drier.

The desert region extends unevenly in both tropics. In the north, the Sahara covers over 8 million km2, whereas the Kalahari and the Namib occupy a less extensive area in southern Africa. Rainfall is frequently below 100 mm per year. High atmospheric pressure and cold sea currents result in drought that is accentuated by strong winds. Daily (up to 50°C) and annual (25 to 30°C) temperature variations are high.

A Mediterranean climate is confined to the northern and southern tips of the continent. Summers are warm and dry, winters mild and damp. Temperature deviations are greater inland, where frost and snow are frequent. In the Maghreb, the mean annual temperature is 18°C on the plains, but only 14°C in the Atlas Mountains.

Africa is affected by climate change that will have serious consequences on agricultural output and the health of the population (for example, lower and more irregular rainfall encourages greater numbers of disease-bearing insects and makes producing enough to eat yet more challenging).

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