Beira, Mozambique – Joao Domingo returned to his home in the devastated town of Beira on Sunday after collecting the few remaining maize cobs from the family’s small communal farmland in Nhamatanda, located 101km away.
He recounted the days his family had spent stuck in the house without food, as floodwaters engulfed the surrounding area.
“We did not have food when we were trapped inside our small house – myself, my wife and four children – we starved,” said Domingo. “After makeshift roads were erected, I had to catch the bus today to Nhamatanda, but a plastic bag full of maize is all I could salvage.
“My children were crying when we were trapped inside the house for three days. My 14-year-old-son kept asking if we would emerge alive, and if he would ever go to school again”.
The people of Beira are still coming to terms with the deadly effects of the storm, which destroyed the area around the coastal town, leaving most houses ruined or damaged.
Ricardo Pereira, 28, said he used to spend most of his time on the beach, working as a “helper” for holidaymakers, but now he wandered around aimlessly, chatting with people about the carnage and its effects.
“It’s something we really don’t want to be reminded of,” said Pereira. “But you can’t avoid talking about it. When you see people sitting around on street corners as if nothing happened, it is because [we] are just trying to put a brave face on. But we do talk about it.”
Rescue efforts have meanwhile intensified, reinforced by a 65-member Chinese rescue team, which arrived in Beira on Monday at the request of the Mozambican government, as the number of those affected by Cyclone Idai rose to 794,000.
In Beira, most of those displaced have found shelter on higher ground in several buildings in the city, occupying some 2,867 classrooms throughout this metropolitan area of 500,000 people.
Firoz Sumaly, a religious leader, said the restoration of electricity at the Hospital Central da Beira was now under way, with the cleric having mobilised aid organisations to donate several generators.
Aid group MSF said it had been forced to cease medical activities in Beira as a result of the flooding.
“The first thing you see when you arrive is destruction and a lot of water. We hear that the situation outside the town may be even worse,” MSF’s emergency coordinator in Beira, Gert Verdonck, said in a statement.
“The water system is out of service, so there are large areas where people are really finding it difficult to find sources of clean water.
“It’s hard at this stage to have a clear picture of the medical needs. Actually, it’s even hard just to get to the health centres, because the roads are destroyed or because the health centres themselves are destroyed”.
Mozambican Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario told reporters on Monday that while the worst excesses of the flooding had been contained, the country, with Beira topping the list, was still reeling under the challenges of this massive disaster.
Do Rosario said 293 people had died in the last three days while 345 had been displaced. He added that some 1511 were either hospitalised or receiving treatment from mobile medical teams courtesy of the Southern African country’s government and aid agencies.
“Everything that must be done is being done, I can assure you all,” Do Rosario said.
“People must continue to stay in safer and higher places, relief is definitely on the way. No death must happen again because help has not reached them. Food, shelter and medical attention are critically needed.
“We are also working on restoring power, which has been cut in most parts of the city. Another chief priority is the reconstruction of the Beira road, which has been cut off. Progress on site is satisfactory, I can safely tell you that.”
Meanwhile, the Mozambican government says at least 500 victims of the cyclone nationwide have been driven beyond the border into three neighbouring countries – Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Spokesman Geraldo Saranga said the government had sought refugee status for the victims in the three countries.
“The relevant government departments of the four nations have been speaking to ensure the smooth movement and settlement of the affected citizens of Mozambique who have been forced to move to the safety of our neighbouring countries. The three countries have all reacted with compassion and as Mozambicans we feel deeply indebted”.