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CNN Today

Mozambique Flooding: Urgency of Rescue Operations Increasing

Aired February 29, 2000 - 2:33 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The United Nations appeals for more helicopters today to help desperate flood victims in Mozambique. Relief workers estimate tens of thousands of people still are trapped by the floodwaters, many hanging on to trees or stranded on rooftops.

Mark Austin from Britain's Independent Television News has our update.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK AUSTIN, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): As the floodwaters rise here, so the urgency of this rescue operation increases.

For 48 hours a family of 14, including 11 children, have survived, huddled together, clinging to the branches of this tree. Today at last, help was at hand. We filmed as the pilot of a South African search and rescue helicopter maneuvered carefully closer to the tree. Suddenly, they spot one of the children, a young boy, struggling in the water. He had been blown off the tree by the downdraft of the helicopter. But the wind, the current, and the panic-stricken child makes this a difficult rescue.

The boy is drifting away in danger of drowning. He is saved just in time. It is simply one more example of the extraordinary work being done by the helicopter crews here. And this rescue is not over; 10 more children have to be hoisted to safety.

Saving lives here is a hazardous business. This family's house is collapsing around them, as the water levels rise. And there is now a desperation about the rescues here because time is running out. For eight hours today, this crew was plucking people from the flood, stopping only to refuel their helicopter. They are exhausted, but they cannot stop. They are the only hope for thousands of people across hundreds of square miles of Mozambique who this evening remain in desperate trouble.

(on camera): The work of these rescue crews is nothing short of heroic, but things have worsened here. The biggest town in this province has also been submerged.

(voice-over): This was the town of Xai-Xai when we flew over it at the weekend. And this is how it looked today. The water swept through overnight, forcing more people on to roofs, waiting to be rescued. But the rescue crews are busy elsewhere. From our helicopter, which has no rescue equipment, we spot a man clinging to the top of a pine tree. We land on high ground and ask the local boatman why they are not trying to save people.

"We want to," they say, "but we've only a few liters of fuel left."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's people drowning, and we haven't got paid for to go ahead and fetch them. I mean, what must we do?

AUSTIN: They find enough fuel for one more run, shouting to people on roofs that those most desperate must have priority.

Eventually, they find the man in the tree. After 12 hours, watching the waters rising around him, he is finally thrown his lifeline.

Then they are told about the balcony of a building in danger of collapsing under the weight of the people who have sought sanctuary on it. They can't take them all, so they take mothers and children. For those who are left behind, rescue may well be a long time coming, as it will be for countless other people still stranded and helpless this evening in the floodwaters of Mozambique.

Mark Austin, ITN, Shibutu (ph).

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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