Beira, Mozambique – Sara Francisco survived the devastating Cyclone Idai by climbing onto a rooftop with her two young daughters in her rural village of Buzi after most surrounding buildings were swept away by flooding.
She was stuck on the rooftop for about 24 hours with no food, surviving only on rainwater while calling out for help with her children.
Help eventually came when a villager passed by in a small canoe, taking Fransico, 24, and her daughters to a camp for displaced persons in Beira, 50km northeast of Buzi.
But her problems are not over as she still cannot find her missing family members.
“I can’t find my husband, my mother and six siblings. We were together before the floods but since I arrived to the camp, I can’t locate them,” Francisco told Al Jazeera.
“I assumed they were rescued by the boats too but it doesn’t look like they survived. Every day I’m praying to God to find them,” she added.
“I have made repeated calls to their phone numbers but got no response. Some of my relations have gone back to the village to look for them but no one has seen them. I am really, really concerned.”
Cyclone Idai was one of the worst storms on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere as a whole. The cyclone caused catastrophic damage in Zimbabwe and Malawi, but Mozambique was the hardest-hit, with Beira, a coastal city of 500,000 residents, and surrounding areas bearing the brunt of the long-lived storm.
For days, rescue teams including government workers and aid agencies deployed boats and helicopters to the flooded areas in search of survivors.
Thousands were ferried to safety – mostly to Beira, which was partly destroyed by the cyclone. However, thousands remain missing.
Twenty-eight-year-old Eduardo received word that his ageing mother and two of his siblings were among the dead.
“I cried so hard when I was told they were swept away by the floods. The people around them were helpless in saving them,” Eduardo told Al Jazeera. “I’m inconsolable. I don’t know what to do. I’m now an orphan,” he said.
The death toll from the cyclone in Mozambique has topped 500 but officials have warned the toll will rise significantly when the flood waters recede and more bodies will be found.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi last Thursday called off rescue efforts while saluting the efforts of those searching for victims of the cyclone, which he described as the “worst humanitarian disaster in Mozambique”.
Meanwhile, some of the survivors in the rescue camps have demanded to return home.
The Mozambique National Institute for Disaster Management is now leading efforts to return some of them back to their storm-stricken villages as the flood waters recede.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, the institute’s spokesman Vitorini Mondlane, said “steps are being taken to return some of the people back to their homes – especially those from Buzi. They will be assisted to rebuild their homes.”
“Those who decide not to return home will be allocated plots of land in another location that is not vulnerable to flooding,” Mondlane added.
The makeshift camps, mostly built by relief agencies, are crowded with a lack basic amenities.
The United Nations has said some 1.8 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The imminent threat of more cholera infections and hunger is still a major concern.