By Hillary Leung
March 15, 2019

A major cyclone the equivalent of a strong Category 2 hurricane approached the coast of Mozambique late Thursday, prompting residents to brace for what weather authorities have called a likely “worst case scenario.”

Cyclone Idai was forecast to make landfall just south of Beira, the nation’s fourth-largest city with a population of half a million, late Thursday night. It is now carrying sustained 110 mph winds gusting to above 130 mph, according to the Washington Post.

Flooding from Idai’s path inland has already killed 122 people in Mozambique and Malawi, making it the deadliest weather disaster this year.

The landfall will pose further threat to the African country, with authorities saying it could bring a “life-threatening” storm surge of up to 13 feet along Mozambique’s coastline, and close to 20 feet at the mouth of the Pungwe river, which runs to Zimbabwe. The surge could submerge thousands of homes and businesses, and potentially displace more than 1,000 residents, the Post reports.

Mozambique ranks third among countries in Africa most susceptible to weather-related hazards, according to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. In 2015, Cyclone Chedza killed 140, and in 2000, Tropical Cyclone Eline left 350 dead and 650,000 homeless across southern Africa. Cyclone Idai is predicted to be the strongest to make landfall in Mozambique since Eline.

Mozambican authorities have issued a red alert regarding Tropical Cyclone Idai and humanitarian response is ongoing in Malawi and Mozambique. The government, with support from local and international partners, is providing assistance to people already displaced by floods, but access is being impeded by road damage, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Write to Hillary Leung at hillary.leung@time.com.

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