Cyclone Kenneth flattens much of Mozambique's Ibo tourist island

Forecast of heavy rainfall raises fears of more devastation in a country hit by another powerful storm just last month

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Cyclone Kenneth destroyed hundreds of homes in northern Mozambique and damaged thousands, with officials warning of risk from landslides and flooding caused by heavy rainfall brought by the storm.

The government of Mozambique on Saturday urged people to seek high ground as the country's disaster management organization said five had been killed.

The powerful storm made landfall in Cabo Delgado province late on Thursday after swiping the Comoros islands. Its peak winds of 160 kilometres an hour had fallen to about 70 kph by mid-day on Friday, according to the national meteorological institute. But heavy rains were forecast to continue at least until Saturday, bringing more misery to a country still dealing with the devastation caused after Cyclone Idai hit last month.

According to preliminary information released by Unicef, nearly 17,000 people were affected; 450 homes totally destroyed; and nearly 3,000 houses damaged by Kenneth.

On the tourist island of Ibo, home to 6,000 people, 90 per cent of homes had been flattened, according to Mozambique's emergency agency, the INGC.

"It looks like the island has been bombed ... It is biblical," said a South African tour operator and owner of a hotel on Ibo, Kevin Record, told Agence France-Presse.

The INGC reported a death caused by a falling coconut tree in the port city of Pemba, Cabo Delgado's provincial capital, along with severe flooding, mudslides and widespread power outages.

In many affected communities, areas "are prone to flooding and landslides in normal rainfall, and this is far from a normal situation", the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said.

Communities in central Mozambique are still reeling from Cyclone Idai, which hit on the night of March 14-15, causing killer floods that swept away homes, roads and bridges.

The storm also smashed into Zimbabwe and Malawi. In the three countries, more than 1,000 lives were lost, and damage is estimated at around $2 billion (Dh7.4bn).

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said Kenneth was expected to dump over 600 millimetres of rain in some areas. By way of comparison, this would be nearly double the amount that fell on the central city of Beira during Cyclone Idai – a downpour that turned parts of the region into an inland sea.

"Although floodwaters have receded in most areas it [Idai] affected, access is still a challenge as infrastructure was severely compromised," the WFP warned.

"This second cyclone is an additional blow for the people of Mozambique and bound to complicate the humanitarian response."

In neighbouring Tanzania, the authorities issued red alerts to warn of the dangers from rain, floods and landslides.

The provinces of Mtwara, Lindi and Ruvuma were at highest risk, the country's meteorological agency said.

Residents in Mtwara were leaving the coastal enclave with their families, some on foot, for emergency shelters, witnesses told AFP by phone.

Gelasius Byakanwa, the governor of Mtwara, ordered schools closed in his province and asked "students to stay home and employees not to go to their offices".

In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said Mozambique's back-to-back cyclones were unprecedented.

"There is no record of two storms of such intensity striking Mozambique in the same season," the UN's weather agency said.

A fact-finding WMO mission in Mozambique will look at the "impact of climate change and sea-level rise on Mozambique's resilience" to extreme weather, it said.

Climate change has made cyclones more damaging, as rising sea levels have increased the strength of storm surges, WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis told AFP.

Higher or more powerful waves are driven towards the shore, posing a greater risk for coastal-dwelling populations.