The death toll from Cyclone Freddy, which dissipated in mid-March after massive flooding and landslides in southern Africa, could exceed 1,200 in Malawi as hopes dwindle of finding survivors, police and authorities said Thursday.
The cyclone killed at least 676 people in Malawi, the epicenter of the disaster. And the country's disaster management department says the chances of finding the 538 missing, more than two weeks after the disaster, have become painfully slim.
Search operations with sniffer dogs are continuing in some places, its head Charles Kalemba said on Wednesday, but no longer in hard-hit Blantyre, "as the team on the ground has informed us that they have done their best.
"Given the number of days that have passed, the chances of finding people alive are slim, which is why we will wait for the police to declare when we can consider that the missing persons are dead," he said.
That decision is still premature, police spokesman Harry Namwaza told AFP on Thursday. "The police and the army are continuing the search. When we have completed this process, the time will come to declare the missing presumed dead."
He did not comment on how long the search will take. "It is difficult to say because we are still reaching some places that were previously inaccessible. There is still work to do," he added.
Formed in early February off Australia, the cyclone with exceptional longevity has made an unprecedented crossing of over 8,000 km from east to west in the Indian Ocean.
It followed a looping path rarely recorded by meteorologists, hitting Madagascar and Mozambique for the first time at the end of February, and then again in March for these two countries and Malawi.
In addition to the heavy toll in Malawi, Freddy also killed 165 people in Mozambique and another 17 in Madagascar, according to the UN.