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‘The water took everything’: tells of Cyclone Idai ordeal

People rescued by boat are arriving at Beira in hope of first aid, shelter and reunion with their families

On a beach in Beira, relatives wait for boats to take them to Buzi to search for their loved ones. Photo: Peter Beamont/The Guardian

Standing in the fishing port in Beira, Mozambique, Jose Mala scans the faces of those evacuated by boat from Buzi – one of the towns hardest hit by Cyclone Idai – searching for anyone he knows.

He had hopeful news the day before, says Mala, 27. He met a neighbour at the port who told him his sister and two nephews had survived the cyclone that destroyed large parts of their hometown.

His hope is that his sister and her boys are now trying to reach Beira on one of the fishing boats that have been rescuing people under the direction of the Indian navy.

“I was here from five to 11 yesterday evening,” Mala explains. “I’m told my sister is alive. I’ve been trying to phone her for the last five days but the network has been down. So now I’m here waiting for them.”

“I was here from five to 11 yesterday evening,” Mala explains. “I’m told my sister is alive. I’ve been trying to phone her for the last five days but the network has been down. So now I’m here waiting for them.”

People pass through a section of the damaged road in Nhamatanda about 30 miles from Beira. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

He’s not alone. Next to the first aid station hastily erected by the navy, worried relatives wait patiently as evacuees are processed from the tuna boat that took them the last leg into port.

Further up the beach, however, is an exhausted group, unable to walk to the main port as others have done to be registered. Among them is Ventura Francisco, 72, and Francisco Dominguez, 97, who are carried into the back of a four-wheel drive be taken to the aid station.

For those arriving at the fishing port, it is a brisk operation: they queue to be registered as they come off the boat, are handed some food, and then treated by the Indian medics.

The majority, many of whom arrived shoeless and in the clothes they were wearing when the disaster struck, are suffering from infections to the feet and lower legs from being so long in the water. Others are dehydrated or suffering from snake bites.

“When we first arrived we could only access the area to rescue the worst-injured in a two-to-three-hour window because of the tides,” says one of the Indian officers. “Our focus since then has been directing the small fishing boats where to go to pick up people.”

Even then, the Indians add, not everyone wants to be evacuated, choosing instead to remain to protect their property.

There are fears the death toll could soar beyond the 1,000 predicted by the country’s president earlier this week, as the scale of the disaster becomes clearer and aid agencies struggle to meet the humanitarian need.

“It was slow to start, it is now accelerating thankfully. We need to accelerate and expand,” World Food Programme spokesman Gerald Bourke told AFP, speaking of the aid effort. “We are not yet where it needs to be. We are broadening the effort. It’s going to take a lot more because this is going to run for quite a while.”

One of those greeting the people arriving from Buzi is Elsa Mazambue, an employee of the Dutch company Cornelder which runs the port concession and has made its employees available for the rescue effort.

From talking to those arriving, Mazambue has her own picture of what happened in Buzi. “What people have been telling us is that the river passes through Buzi; the villages on one side of the river had time to escape to an old sugar plantation. Those who got there found something to climb on when the waters suddenly arrived on Sunday.”

So they climbed on roofs, into trees and even into electricity pylons, with some still trapped where the waters remain deepest, according to those escaping yesterday.

A man stands on the roof of his destroyed home in Buzi, one of the towns hardest hit by Idai. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Standing in the queue waiting to have his details taken is Konde Pereira, aged 21. His face crumples with relief as he is welcomed but it is a relief muted by the fact that there was no room on the boat for his mother and other relatives.

With his house destroyed he decided to take his opportunity to escape Buzi. “It was so hard, though now things are getting a little better. We sheltered on a roof, although many people took shelter in a Catholic church. And there are still people in the trees.

“The water got low enough so that I could escape on foot.” He adds that, even then, it remained neck-high in places.

“When the cyclone came I was in my house with my family. We survived but after that the walls and roof were gone. Then on Sunday the water started coming up from the river. Everything was taken by the water. Those of us who were a distance from the river had the chance to run away. Those closer didn’t have a chance.

“We were on the roof to begin with for two days. It was so difficult. We had no water or food. After that we came down and went into the houses.

“I am so relieved to have escaped, even if I don’t know what we are facing here. I have a family. I need to start again.”

SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

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