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Chimanimani, Zimbabwe – President Emmerson Mnangagwa has flown into a mountainous town on Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique to visit the survivors of a devastating cyclone that has killed scores of people and caused widespread damage.

Since Cyclone Idai hit on Friday evening, the farming town of Chimanimani has been largely cut off from the rest of the country, with bridges destroyed and routes blocked due to mudslides and fallen trees.

Mnangagwa on Wednesday cut across a rocky stream as he visited patients in the Chimanimani District Hospital in Ngangu township. 

Boulders fell down the mountain slopes blocking all paths to the hospital, while trickles of floodwater continued to flow in some parts of the town.

People cross a path filled with rock boulders that fell from the mountain during the storm in Chimanimani [Tendai Marima/Al Jazeera]

“We tried to warn people; we asked those living on the downward slopes to move to higher ground, but that was just [a] warning …. we didn’t know how bad, now we are met with this tragedy,” Mnangagwa told a crowd of locals gathered around a football field.

“Many of our people have died …When we are faced with a tragedy like this, we wish that we all come together and unite and support each other through this time as one family,” he said.

The government has said that at least 98 people have been killed and more than 200 are missing in Zimbabwe as a result of the powerful cyclone, which has also ravaged parts of Mozambique and Malawi, causing flash floods, destroying infrastructure and wiping out entire communities. 

On Monday, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said the number of people killed in the cyclone and preceding floods in his country could exceed 1,000.

‘What about those missing?’

In Chimanimani, which is accessible only by air, at least 40 people have been buried since Monday, but the overall death toll and the full extend of the damage remain unknown.

Local residents told Al Jazeera there were still areas where people were trapped, while others lamented that their neighbours were still missing following the weekend’s heavy rains.

“My wife was injured and my child was hurt, but my neighbours’ children are missing. Nobody knows where the two children are [and] if they are alive,” Zviyere Ngomariya, a 44-year-old local businessman, said.

“I thank God my family is OK, but what about those who are missing?”

Mnangagwa and VP Constantino Chiwenga visit a hospitalised patient in Chimanimani [Tendai Marima/Al Jazeera] 

Mnangagwa, who cut short a trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has declared the cyclone a national disaster and promised that the government would provide the necessary assistance – including medicine and food relief – beyond the budgeted $50m response.

The UAE has provided $4.9m in emergency aid, while other countries in the wider region – including Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Tanzania – have also provided humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile, the African Union has pledged to contribute $350,000 to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique affected by Cyclone Idai and said it will dispatch an assessment mission to survey the damage affecting more than two million people in the three countries.

Mnangagwa is also visiting other cyclone-hit areas in the eastern highlands affected by the cyclone. Search and rescue missions are ongoing with at least 42 people reportedly marooned in areas around the border district.

While the threat of heavy rains remains, military units and roadworks employees are working to clear obstructed roads and bridges, albeit with very limited resources.

Follow Tendai Marima on Instagram and Twitter @i_amten

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