by Zhang Yuliang, Tichaona Chifamba
HARARE, March 18 (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwe is starting to count the losses as the death toll caused by Cyclone Idai-induced floods hit 70 across three provinces, while access to the most affected areas in southeastern Zimbabwe remains curtailed.
Manicaland Province has so far recorded 65 deaths while Masvingo and Mashonaland East provinces have recorded four and one respectively.
Hundreds if others are still missing amid fears that the body count will rise further.
The most severely affected area is Chimanimani district where most of the deaths have occurred, followed by Chipinge district in Manicaland Province.
Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister July Moyo told state media Herald newspaper that the 65 deaths in Manicaland were caused by drowning and injuries sustained during mudslides.
"We will continue with efforts to reach Chimanimani. Our army engineers as well as their counterparts from the Ministry of Transport are with us to help clear the way. We want to ensure that we reach the ground and render all the necessary assistance," he said Sunday night during a tour of some of the affected areas.
Moyo confirmed that an international appeal for assistance had been made and some local well-wishers were already providing help.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had left the country on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates on Friday, just a few hours before the tropical cyclone hit the country, has had to cut short the trip and turned to the country on Monday.
The Meteorological Services Department has forecast sunny breaks starting Monday as the cyclone continues to lose intensity as it heads towards Malawi.
Roads and bridges have been severely damaged while thousands of people have been left homeless after their homes collapsed in the driving rains and floods.
Communication is difficult in some areas and anxious relatives are trying to reach their loved ones through the less damaged roads, but increased traffic is now slowing down relief efforts.
The government is now appealing to the relatives to stop driving into the affected areas until the victims have been attended to by the Civil Protection Unit.
"The Civil Protection Unit wants to appeal to the general public to avoid visiting the cyclone ravaged Chimanimani and Chipinge areas. Increased traffic is causing road congestion that is disturbing the transportation of relief supplies and slowing down rescue efforts," a notice tweeted by the Ministry of Information, Media and Publicity said Monday.
Government ministers are touring the affected areas and hope that army engineers will quickly clear the roads that are littered with debris.
The clearer weather as the rains subside has also enabled the Air Force of Zimbabwe to fly its helicopters to affected areas and airlift the injured for medical treatment, the government said.
However, some areas continue to be engulfed in mist, thereby slowing down rescue efforts.
Churches across the country are also appealing to their congregants to help in cash or kind, while the corporate world has also chipped in with food, blankets and clothing.
Nearly 200 pupils and their teachers at St Charles Luwanga School in Chipinge, who had been stranded since Friday, were rescued Sunday.
The school is mourning the death of two pupils following a rockfall which hit their dormitory while they slept on Friday.
The United Nations team in Zimbabwe has also joined the government and other partners in providing relief to about 8,000 people affected by the cyclone.