Mon, Mar 25, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Mozambique struggles in wake of storm and flooding

Reuters and The Observer, BEIRA, Mozambique

People displaced by Cyclone Idai set up bedding on a roof in Buzi District, Mozambique, on Saturday.

Photo: AP

The death toll after a powerful cyclone in Mozambique has risen to 446 from 417, Mozambican Minister of Land and Environment Celso Correia said yesterday, adding that 531,000 people had been affected by the disaster.

Cyclone Idai lashed the Mozambican port city of Beira with winds of up to 170kph, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and causing massive flooding.

Beneath the crumbling arcade of the municipal council building in Beira, a group of families has set up a dismal camp. They sleep on dirty concrete pavement and cook with branches from the trees brought down by Idai.

Correia said that the situation in the country was now critical.

Laila Jorge, a mother of three, was one of those caught by the storm. A street vendor of alcoholic drinks, she was living in Zona B, a poor area of the port city of Beira, where shacks were once located close to the sea.

“When the wind came, it took off the roof and blew down the wooden walls of my house,” Jorge said. “We had to run because we thought that we were going to die. There was waist-deep water [from the storm surge] in the street, so we ran here. We didn’t have our shoes and our feet got cut from glass we couldn’t see. We stopped when we got here because it was dry and because it was empty.”

They have lost everything, she said.

Her pots and shoes were donated by workers cleaning up the damage. Apart from that, they have received no aid.

Near Jorge, several children gathered water in large plastic bottles from a deep puddle that overflowed from the fountain pool in the square opposite. Next to them, a boy of about eight is washing tiny sprat-like fish that glisten in a pot.

Jorge said the fish were washed up by the cyclone and stranded in the pools of standing water left in the city and were now being collected by local boys.

“Dead or alive, we’ve been eating them, because it’s all we have to eat,” she said.

Jorge said dirty water being scooped up and carried by the children from the square was for cooking and washing, not drinking, but added that her children aged three, five and seven all had diarrhea.

Despite a huge global-aid appeal that has raised tens of millions across the world, including in the UK, many like Jorge have yet to see assistance.

International aid officials have said they were initially blindsided by the nature of the catastrophe.

They had focused their initial efforts on Beira, which the Red Cross initially thought was largely destroyed by the cyclone. They did not foresee the arrival of devastating floods that would hit huge areas of the countryside more than a day later.

That wrongfooting had consequences. Badly needed helicopters, required to rescue people in the countryside sheltering in trees, on roofs and in electric pylons, were slow to arrive.

“We could see from our first aerial surveys that Beira had been badly hit,” Jamie LeSueur of the Red Cross told reporters. “What we weren’t able to predict was the scale of the flooding that would follow.”

And the biggest impact might be the least visible in one of Mozambique’s most densely populated regions. After several years of drought in southern Africa, the subsistence farmers who populate the coastal plains have lost their crops at harvest time. They have no food or produce to take to market.

This weekend emergency efforts were shifting from search and rescue — led by the pilots and boat operators who have plucked people from the floods — to humanitarian assistance. Within the next few days a road route is to reopen to Beira, ending the bottleneck on food supplies.

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