MAPUTO – Parts of the southern African country of Mozambique were cut off on Friday after a tropical storm teared through the coast and the city of Beira with heavy rain and winds of up to up 170 kilometres per hour.

Meteorologists forecast Cyclone Idai to unleash more floodwater and destruction in Mozambican and Malawian provinces, people have been killed and displaced by floods over the past few weeks.

In low-lying Beira, a gateway for imports to southeast Africa, Twitter images and television footage showed billboards and rooftops blown away, trees snapped, communication towers knocked down and electricity cables lying across the streets,” according to a report by Reuters.

Villages along the coast of the northerly Zambezi province were cut off from the mainland by a two-meter storm surge.

Government emergency services had yet to give an update but the South African Weather Service (SAWS) said the cyclone was moving inland, northwest of Beira.

“We don’t have any communications from the area,” said senior forecaster Jan Vermeulen. “I think there’s a lot of damage to infrastructure which is probably responsible for the loss in communications.”

The Mozambican television channel TVM reported that at least five people had been seriously injured.

Beira has a population of 500 000 and sits at the mouth of the Pungwe River.

The SAWS said the storm would weaken as it moved inland but would still bring significant rain and widespread flash flooding to the Sofala and Manica provinces, the far east of Zimbabwe and southern Malawi.

The United Nations said more than 100 people had already died in weeks of heavy rain and flooding in Mozambique and Malawi, where villages were left underwater and floods washed away houses and knocked out power in some areas.

Almost 100 000 people had been forced to leave their homes across the two countries, where humanitarian operations are already under way.

“Twenty tons of biscuits will arrive in country shortly for immediate assistance to stranded communities, by boat and helicopter,” said Michael Milton of the U.N. World Food Program.

In February 2000, Cyclone Eline hit Mozambique when it was already devastated by its worst floods in three decades. It killed 350 people and made 650,000 homeless across southern Africa. Delaware-based energy giant Anadarko and South African petrochemical group Sasol have significant investments in major liquefied natural gas projects off northern Mozambique, but these are currently out of harm’s way.