MAPUTO, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Mozambican and South African military helicopters and boats have rescued 12,000 families from floods in central Mozambique that have killed 12 people and inundated villages, towns and huge swathes of farmland, officials said on Friday.
The war-scarred southern African nation's central provinces have had up to 500 mm of rain in 12 days, more than the combined average for January, February and March, according to its Meteorological Institute.
The downpour, combined with floodwater surging down the Limpopo river from neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe, has left Chokwe, a town of 70,000 people 140 km (90 miles) north of Maputo, completely submerged.
The government issued an alert on Tuesday telling all residents to evacuate within 48 hours although it is unclear how many heeded the warning.
Television footage showed families climbing onto roofs and up trees to escape the rising floods in the region, which was also hit by massive floods in 2000.
Government shelters have taken in 12,000 families and the United Nations has so far supplied 700 tonnes of food.
"The rain has fallen in an extremely short period of time," Sergio Bugue of the National Meteorological Institute told Reuters. "It is getting better but we are continuing to monitor fronts and possible cyclones."
The flooding has also killed at least 12 people in South Africa and allowed 15,000 crocodiles to escape into the Limpopo when dams protecting a reptile farm on the banks of the river overflowed. (Reporting by Marina Lopes; Editing by Ed Cropley and Ed Stoddard)