Mozambique Floods: Returning to ruined homes...

By Elaine Eliah
As rivers in Mozambique recede toward their normal levels, residents have begun returning to find their homes in ruins and their lives changed forever. Helicopter rescue crews reported airlifting 2000 people to emergency transit camps on Saturday, but by Sunday 5 March, crews found only 100 looking for a way out, with most other people flagging rescuer away.

"Most of the people in the areas do not want to be rescued anymore", said a spokesman for the South African Air Force, which rescued many of the stranded flood victims. "The people feel that they're not in immediate danger now and we agree." With emergency rescue work completed, flight crews from several nations are now concentrating on deliveries of food and non-food relief to affected areas. Road crews have managed to repair several segments of the country's main north-south roadway and it is anticipated that more and more foodstuffs will be transported by vehicle soon.

Tuesday afternoon US military c-130s will use sophisticated surveillance equipment to assess damage to Mozambique's rail system and hope that many parts of the nation can then be served by rail.

Airports at both Maputo and Beira, roughly 1600 kilometers north of the capital city, are serving as bases for the helicopter fleet and are also being used for receiving supplies from international donors. After mechanical delays forced two transport planes to put down in nearby Kenya, the three laneloads of emergency aid sent by DanChurchAid through Action by Churches Together (ACT), have arrived in Mozambique. Nearly one million dollars US worth of non-food items were on these planes. Fast food in the form of protein biscuits will be rushed to communities as soon as possible.

Water purification tablets are in immediate demand, as in Chokwè, Chibuto and Xai Xai, where entire water systems have failed, leaving people only river water to drink. At present there has not been an increase of cholera, beyond the number of cases routinely reported in the country (where it is considered endemic), but health workers are rushing to prevent an outbreak from occurring. There has been an increase in malaria cases.

Family-sized tents and plastic sheeting will provide emergency shelter to many whose homes have been destroyed, many of whom are living in temporary transit camps. These will hopefully be in place in time to beat the latest weather prediction calling for thunderstorms for the entire southern end of Mozambique. The government is carefully monitoring water levels in all the rivers. Though most rivers have been consistently receding, any increase in precipitation in regions where the ground has already absorbed more than it can handle could result in more flooding in a very short span of time.

In Chokwè, about 200 kilometers from the Mozambican capital, region where the Lutheran World Federation had a sizable development operation, the office completely destroyed. LWF team members, journeyed recently through the Chokwè area were pleasantly surprised when their return trip to Maputo required only a single boat crossing instead of the two boats required on the outbound trip just a few days earlier.

"There is both the impression of the flood as well as the vandalism," reported Eliseu da Silva Machava, Southern Mozambique Program Coordinator for the Ecumenical Committee for Social Development (CEDES). He described broken bank windows, looted shops, and a hotel where he used to stay that is now ruined beyond recognition.

"It's a ghost town. You can walk through the town and hardly find another person." Many residents are eager to return to their homes, or whatever they may find is left of them. The evening of the wall of water flooded Chokwè, there had been a big party in the town, and a number of residents were away from their homes and families. When the flood hit, few had time to collect their children. Many in the emergency transit camps report missing family members and hope they will be reunited with their relatives when all return home. Sadly, not all of these will find their relatives alive.

There have been more than forty bodies already been found among flood wreckage. Many others are presumed to have washed out to sea and will never be recovered. Workers collecting bodies can only bag remains and leave them resting where they are found. There is no time for funerals. This system, though seemingly cruel, will at least allow families to know the fate of their loved ones and hopefully to provide them suitable burial when the soil dries enough to dig.