Mozambicans start picking up broken pieces after Cyclone Idai devastation

2019-03-24 12:53

A week ago, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi were hit by one of the biggest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the southern African region. 

Within hours, Cyclone Idai took lives, toppled homes, uprooted trees and left scores of people submerged in water. 

Beira, one of the largest cities in Mozambique, received the lion’s share of the devastation. The port city known for its warmth (both in temperature and its people) was turned upside down.  

Once hailed the hidden gem of Mozambique - the city is now at centre stage - for the most unfortunate of reasons.

"The cyclone has really disrupted our lives," said 60-year-old Laurita Santos. Santos is a Beira native. She claims to have seen it all. 

"This is the worst disaster to hit our town."

READ: Tropical cyclone Idai: The storm that knew no boundaries

She lives in the outskirts of the district called Estofo. On Thursday evening when Idai hit, Santos said the cyclone announced its arrival with heavy winds. The corrugated iron she used as roofing started to tremble and Santos knew that trouble was on the horizon.  

"I grabbed the children and we hid under the kitchen table and the beds." 

She shares her four-roomed home with her eight grandchildren. When rain and wind speed intensified, the children started to scream.  


Laurita Santos, 60, in Beira Mozambique (Nokuthula Manyathi, City Press)

Soothed kids with prayer and song

They wanted Santos to loosen her grip so they could run out of the rattling house. Santos tightened her grip and soothed them with prayer and song. They only came up for air after the house stopped shaking.  

Her house is small, but she took pride in its decor and cleanliness. Memories of her home are now scattered out in her front yard - with the hope that the sun would dry what Idai has drenched. Santos is petite but the calluses on her hands show that she's a woman who has carried many loads. 

At the edge of her yard, a hut made out of wood and mud slants like Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa. For the past 10 years on Sundays, Santos has opened her home to people in her community. 

Anything from 20 to 60 people will gather in her yard to worship at a church called Igreja Evangelica Palavra Da Vida.  

Although Santos doesn't lead the ministry, she is the chief coordinator, and on Saturday, she was thinking about the logistics around Sunday's service.  

"People will have to stand here," she said while gesturing to an unoccupied area in front the old church.


To wash clothes, 21-year-old Espercança Americo uses water from a mini-dam that has formed in her backyard.  (Nokuthula Manyathi, City Press)

No lights, water or cellphone signals  

The extent of the devastation experienced by the people in Beira is difficult to fully illustrate. The city is still primarily without electricity, running water and cell service. 

Even if you have money to buy water, the lines at the ATM machines are long. Locals average about an hour's wait to withdraw money.  

This has to be done during the day because at nightfall thieves lurk around the corners ready to strike.  


Electronic payments can't be processed because the network is patchy at best and nonexistent at worst.  

Everything is either wet or damp - the humidity and frequent rain showers continue to delay the drying process. 

In a district called Chota, all that 21-year-old Esperança Americo wants is clean and easily accessible drinking water.  

Her one-year-old son Silva is her main priority and she worries that the lack of clean running water could lead to his ill-health. 

READ: Recalling the nightmarish moments of Cyclone Idai: 'The last hour was the most dangerous'

On Friday, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement that they were concerned about a possible cholera outbreak. The relief organisations said some cases of cholera had already been reported.  

To wash their clothes, Americo uses water from a mini-dam that has formed in her backyard.  

For drinking, her husband fetches water from a well a few kilometres away from the airport in Beira. When Idai hit, Americo, along with her husband and Silva, had to evacuate their three-roomed home.  


Everything is either wet or damp - the humidity and frequent rain showers continue to delay the drying process. Here school books are placed outside to dry out. (Nokuthula Manyathi, City Press)

Their home wasn't strong enough to withstand the winds so they fled to a neighbour whose home seemed to be more solid.  

Now, more than a week after the storms hit, they still haven’t moved back home. Their home is without a roof - which has forced her to move her furniture to drier land. 

"I asked my sister-in-law if she could please store my fridge, TV and chairs."

Her sister-in-law also lives in Beira but in Macurungo - her home wasn't as badly affected as Americo’s.  

'We didn't expect it to be so bad'

"When we saw on the news that the storm was coming we didn’t think it would be as bad." A lot of people share the same sentiments as Americo.  

Most of the locals thought the storm would be short-lived and wouldn’t be as devastating. On Saturday, during a media briefing, the Minister of Land and Environment Celso Correia said the death toll was now 417.  

The situation remains critical. Crockery, cutlery, suitcases, socks and shoes litter the streets - a constant reminder of how people's lives have been disrupted. Generations of accrued wealth were wiped out within minutes.


Beira has been the economic hub of many regions - for decades the port city has linked countries like Zimbabwe and Zambia to the world. Although the city is bruised, there are glimmers of healing.  

Every third or fourth home has a ladder hoisting a man as he tries to repair a broken window or a cracked roof. Women sweep the streets and young boys place broken branches into wheelbarrows which makes navigating the streets a bit easier.

Most importantly, children in the village are laughing and playing, which makes dealing with the tragedy a bit easier.  

Read more on:    mozambique  |  cyclone idai

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