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Cyclone Freddy an 'Expectational Weather Phenomenon'


FILE - Pallbearers carry a coffin at the burial ceremony for some of the people who lost their lives following heavy rains caused by Cyclone Freddy in Blantyre, southern Malawi, Wednesday, March 15, 2023.

WASHINGTON — Meteorologists are calling Cyclone Freddy, one of the longest-lasting tropical weather systems recorded in the southern hemisphere, a weather phenomenon for the storm that first made landfall late February near Mananjary, Madagascar.

Cyclone Freddy is set to move away from land Wednesday, bringing some relief to the southern African regions that have been devastated by its torrential rain and powerful winds.

Officials in Malawi declared a state of disaster over the storm, which has killed at least 225 people and displaced thousands.

"We are expecting now the situation to be better on Thursday, that's when we are expecting significant reduction in rainfall," Lucy Mtilatila, director of Malawi's state meteorology department, told VOA Tuesday evening.

Mtilatila said upon landfall, Malawi experienced more than 400 millimeters of rain in only 24 hours, an amount that is generally accumulated within two months during a rainy season.

Anne-Claire Fontan, scientific officer with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told VOA Freddy is an expectational weather phenomenon by many aspects including its longevity and the distance it has covered.

"For example, the number of rapid intensifications, the maximum of intensity he has reached and as well as the accumulated cyclone energy and unfortunately the impacts over Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi," Fontan said.

Freddy first developed near Australia in early February. WMO, the U.N’s weather agency, has convened an expert panel to determine whether it has broken the record for the longest-ever cyclone in recorded history, which was set by 31-day Hurricane John in 1994.

Fontan says from its beginning until its third landfall in Mozambique, Freddy has been active for more than 30 days, but the storm itself hasn’t had tropical cyclone status the entire time.

"[WMO] will assess whether these days will be taken into account or not," Fontan said. She added the agency will also assess the accumulated energy of Freddy over the past weeks.

Fontan said what has made Freddy remarkable is although the cyclone made landfall three times, "[Freddy] has never completely dissipated while he was overland," and has benefited from environmental conditions while at sea.

In Mozambique, Guy Taylor, chief of advocacy, communications and partnerships for UNICEF in Mozambique, told VOA the situation there remains challenging, and the organization is appealing for support from the donor community.

"UNICEF is calling for $30 million in support to enable us to respond to this cyclone [devastation] and cholera outbreak. It’s very challenging and we are overstretched," Taylor said.

Taylor says UNICEF is mobilizing water purification supplies, water storage and all the basic hygiene kits.

As it has traversed the Indian Ocean since February, Cyclone Freddy has pummeled Réunion, Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi.

VOA's Kate Dawson, Esther Githui-Ewart and correspondent Reuben Kyama contributed to this report. Some information was sourced from Associated Press.