Maputo - Torrential rains have killed 25 people in central Mozambique in the last two weeks and flooding could devastate the region by March, authorities said on Monday.

The victims, mostly children, drowned while trying to swim through raging waters, said Belarmino Chivambo, spokesman of Mozambique's National Institute of Disaster Management.

"We expect the worst to come by March, which is the peak of the rainy season due to heavy downpours in both Mozambique and neighboring countries," he told Reuters.

Thousands of homes have been destroyed and authorities are setting up emergency shelters, said Chivambo. Roads, bridges and electricity pylons in four provinces have been damaged.

The Zambezi River in central Mozambique, which stretches 500 km (300 miles) through four provinces, is now above flood alert levels, swelled by rains in neighboring Malawi and Zambia.

In early 2007, floods in central Mozambique killed 45 people and left 285,000 homeless, while cyclone Favio displaced another 140,000 people.

It was the worst flooding to hit the former Portuguese colony since floods in 2000-2001 killed 700 people and drove half a million from their homes.