Locals stand beside a damaged section of the road between Beira and Chimoio in Nhamatanda district, central Mozambique, on March 19, 2019, after the area was hit by the Cyclone Idai. Image Credit: AFP

BEIRA, Mozambique: Rescue workers in Mozambique were racing against time to pluck people off trees and rooftops Tuesday after a monster storm reaped a feared harvest of more than 1,000 lives before smashing into Zimbabwe.

Four days after Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall, torrential rains and powerful winds, combined with flash floods that have swept away roads and bridges, inflicted further pain on the two impoverished countries.

More than a 1,000 people are feared to have died in Mozambique alone while scores have been killed and more than 200 are missing in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Emergency teams in central Mozambique set off in boats in an Inland Sea of floodwater, nabbing survivors from treetops and roofs, even in the dead of night.

The South African military and the Mozambican army have deployed their air force in the effort to save lives, while a South African NGO called Rescue SA said it had saved 34 people since Friday night, using three helicopters. It is striving to hire more.

“It is the only way to access the people that are stranded,” Rescue SA’s Abrie Senekal told AFP.

‘Save some, others perish’

Its team is having to make potentially life-and-death decisions about whom to save, the organisation’s head, Ian Scher, told AFP.

“Sometimes we can only save two out of five, sometimes we rather drop food and go to someone else who’s in bigger danger,” he said.

“There’s two issues at the same time: people stranded in trees, and people stranded on houses or new islands that have no food,” he explained.

“We just save what we can save and the others will perish.”

“In the trees, people have to fight with snakes, insects, wildlife.”

President Filipe Nyusi on Monday said the Pungwe and Buzi rivers in central Mozambique had “burst their banks and engulfed entire villages.”

“Communities are isolated and bodies are floating” on the waters, he said, as he reported 84 deaths so far.

“This is a real humanitarian disaster,” he said. “More than 100,000 people are in danger”.

Emma Beaty, coordinator of a grouping of NGOs known as Cosaco, warned of the peril from dams filled to the brim by the floodwater.

“Some dams have broken, and others have reached full capacity, they’ll very soon open the flood gates,” she said.

“It’s a convergence of flooding, cyclones, dams breaking and making a potential wave: everything’s in place so we get a perfect storm”.

Zimbabwe dead

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, Idai left 98 dead and at least 217 more missing, according to the information ministry.

The most affected area is Chimanimani in Manicaland province which borders Mozambique.

Families started burying their dead on Monday in damp graves, and survivors with injuries filled up hospitals, according to an AFP photographer.

Military helicopters were airlifting people to Mutare, the largest city near Chimanimani.

The storm swept away homes and ripped bridges to pieces, leaving destruction that acting defence minister Perrance Shiri said “resembles the aftermath of a full-scale war”.

Some roads were swallowed up by massive sinkholes, while bridges were ripped to pieces by flash floods.

Rescuer Scher warned that “there’s going to be a large amount of dead people, the locals and the international community don’t even realise it yet but it will be huge”.

Britain on Monday said it was giving £6 million ($8 million) in emergency aid to Mozambique.