Dam breaks, flooding Mozambican town; World Relief staff mounts rescue operation

News and Press Release
Originally published
WHEATON, Ill., Feb. 27, 2000 - Last night World Relief's Dr. Pieter Ernst mounted a search and rescue operation in Chokwe, Mozambique, when the town was unexpectedly flooded during the night, leaving thousands trapped. While several World Relief staff made it out of Chokwe before flood waters cut them off, they did not know what happened to other staff, including Dr. Ernst, who was last seen trying to reach a boat for evacuation.
Today South African military helicopter pilots spotted Dr. Ernst engaged in continuous rescue work with a small boat, taking people from trees and other high points to places of relative safety.

There are conflicting reports of whether Meredith Long, World Relief's director of international health programs, has been spotted from the air. Long is a resident of Wheaton, Ill.

About 23,000 people are impacted in this latest round of flooding. World Relief has about 55 local staff in the Chokwe area, but it has been impossible at this point to determine their whereabouts.

With phone lines down from previous flooding, the town of Chokwe was caught unaware last night when a dam upstream on the Limpopo River broke. "Within a few hours, water in Pieter's house was up to our knees," one staff person said.

Groups monitoring the overall flood situation from Maputo first received word of the latest disaster from Carey during the night. Carey then worked with the World Food Programme and government officials to set in motion the rerouting of three South African military helicopters to engage in search and rescue efforts for those trapped in Chokwe.

Southern Mozambique is World Relief's second largest field of operation in the world. Flood relief efforts include providing emergency medicines, food, seeds for replanting lost crops and the rebuilding of homes and small businesses.