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Houses in a flooded area of Buzi, central Mozambique, on March 20. Photo: Adrien Barbier/AFP/Getty Images

The mounting misery and destruction in the wake of Cyclone Idai, which roared into Mozambique on March 14 and 15, is becoming clearer — and more dire — as aid agencies struggle to assess the damage and deliver badly needed supplies to areas that are still submerged.

Why it matters: With the official death toll in three countries — Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi — climbing past 300 and potentially headed for 1,000 or more, Cyclone Idai could become one of the worst weather disasters ever to strike the Southern Hemisphere, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Torrential rains are continuing in parts of the three-country region on Thursday, as floodwaters slowly drain into the Indian Ocean.

The big picture: According to the UN Humanitarian Office, "The situation is likely to deteriorate, and the number of people affected is likely to increase, as weather experts predict heavy rainfall" through March 21, with water levels potentially rising another 26 feet in some places.

"There are also growing concerns regarding the potential effects of the overflow of the Marowanyati Dam in Zimbabwe on water levels in Mozambique," the office stated.

  • Water-borne diseases are a major threat given the lack of clean drinking water in the storm's wake.
  • Herve Verhoosel of the World Food Program said the floodwaters created "inland oceans extending for miles and miles in all directions," according to AP.

The impacts: According to the Associated Press, bodies from Zimbabwe have been swept down mountainsides into Mozambique. "Some of the peasants in Mozambique were calling some of our people to say, 'We see bodies, we believe those bodies are coming from Zimbabwe,'" said July Moyo, a minister of local government.

  • The cyclone made landfall near the city of Beira in Mozambique, home to 500,000, as a Category 3 storm. Reports from the city indicate that about 90% of it has been destroyed by a combination of strong winds, storm surge flooding and heavy rainfall
  • The UN estimates 1.6 million people have been affected.
  • "Everyone is doubling, tripling, quadrupling whatever they were planning," said Caroline Haga of the Red Cross referring to aid, according to the AP. "It's much larger than anyone could ever anticipate."

The bottom line: Mozambique occasionally gets struck by tropical cyclones, but few have been as intense as Idai.

  • In this case, Cyclone Idai was able to intensify rapidly in between Madagascar and Mozambique due to light wind shear aloft and warm ocean waters.
  • In addition to the storm's intensity and heavy rainfall, the biggest factor driving up the death toll is the vulnerability of the region — given the relatively poor population and weak infrastructure, which is unable to withstand powerful winds and prolonged, heavy rainfall.

Go deeper

By the numbers: Where the earmarks are wanted

Expand chart
Data: House Committee on Appropriations; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is being targeted for the largest collective earmark request in the country, according to a detailed breakdown of overall requests released by the House Appropriations Committee.

Why it matters: House appropriators are trying to balance bipartisan momentum for infrastructure investment with "pork-barrel" spending's checkered political history. The data dump is an effort to provide transparency for what are now termed "community project funding" requests.

Democrats open to user fees for infrastructure deal

President Biden sits Thursday with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as they discuss his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal. Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Some Senate Democrats are open to paying for a compromise infrastructure package by imposing user fees, including increasing the gas tax and raising money from electric car drivers through a vehicle-miles-traveled charge.

Why it matters: By inching toward the Republican position on pay-fors, some Democrats are bucking President Biden's push to offset his proposed $2.3 trillion plan by focusing only on raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Progressive legal advocacy group spinning off from sponsor

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A leading progressive legal advocacy group is spinning off from the sprawling dark money network that seeded it, the group tells Axios.

Why it matters: Demand Justice's decision to separate from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a "fiscal sponsor" for scores of largely left-wing organizations, will provide the public with its first detailed look behind the curtain of the influential progressive nonprofit.