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A 1-year-old child has died and 23 people are missing and presumed dead after a hippo attacked a canoe and overturned it on a river in southern Malawi, authorities said Tuesday.

The long wooden canoe was carrying 37 people across the Shire River on its way to neighboring Mozambique when it was struck by a hippopotamus in Nsanje district on Monday.

Malawi police rescued 13 people with the help of World Food Program staff who were working in the area and provided boats for the rescue operation, Nsanje District Police Commissioner Dominic Mwandira said.

People were feared dead because the search lasted more than 24 hours, police spokeswoman Agnes Zalakoma said.

FIXING Malawi Canoe Hippo
Malawi’s Minister of Water and Sanitation, Abida Mia (left) and local member of parliament Gladys Ganda (right) wait for news from a rescue team on the banks of the Shire River on May 16, 2023.

Austin Cachipea/AP

Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera dispatched Water and Sanitation Minister Abidu Mia to the scene. She said local residents said her hippos often caused problems in the area and they wanted the authorities to relocate some of the animals.

“Currently, search operations are being conducted to locate the missing persons,” Zalakoma said.

Zalakoma said the canoe began to roll and eventually overturned after the hippo collided with it.

The Shire is Malawi’s largest river.

Boating accidents are common in Malawi, where the lack of regular water transport forces many to cross lakes and rivers in sometimes rickety boats in the absence of proper regulations.

Last month, at least five people died after an overcrowded boat capsized in Malawi’s central Mchinji district.

Hippos, weighing up to 8,000 pounds, are the heaviest land animals after the elephant. World Wildlife Fund. They escape from the heat, live in the water during the day, and come ashore at night to feed.

AFP contributed to this report.


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