Tropical Cyclone Idai has led to the deaths of hundreds of people, injury to many more and the displacement of thousands and caused catastrophic damage and protracted flooding. Large areas in Mozambique and in neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi have been affected and the death toll is anticipated to rise to horrific numbers.

People have been swept away by flood waters, drowned in submerged areas, killed or injured when buildings collapsed, or when hit by flying debris lifted in the winds that raged at speeds up to 170 km an hour at the height of the storm. Thousands of homes have been completely destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.

Below are some of the images available online, these found via Google.

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After causing heavy rains in Malawi and Mozambique in early March, the tropical system moved out to sea again. In the Mozambican Channel it gained in strength becoming Cyclone Idai gathering more moisture as it progressed slowly back towards the Mozambican coast making landfall last Thursday (21 March 2019) in the vicinity of Beira, the fourth largest city and second largest port in Mozambique. The low-lying city of over 500,000 people is now cut off with access roads wrecked, and with infrastructure smashed there is no electrical power or telephone or cellphone communication. The Beira airport sustained significant damage but is now being used as a rescue hub with some flights now possible and it now has some communication with the outside world. Part of the port is relatively intact but not functioning properly. The main hospital incurred major damage with sections being unusable. Aid agencies estimate that 90% of the city is completely destroyed.

Rural communities, both inland and coastal, are even worse off with dwellings completely destroyed and vast areas submerged by flood waters – as much as six metres deep in some regions. Survivors cling to trees and congregate on structures such as buildings, bridges and sections of roads that still remain. A spokesperson for the International Federation for the Red Cross and Red Crescent reported that a week after the cyclone made landfall there are thousands of people still stranded on roofs, trees and other elevated areas waiting for rescue.  They have no drinkable water, no food and no shelter. With roads wrecked and many bridges washed away, access by road to many such areas is impossible.

Rescuers in helicopters and small boats can only rescue a tiny percentage of the people that they see, people who are literally precariously hanging onto life. Children and babies, pregnant women and the injured are given priority. Heartbreakingly, many people whom rescuers have not had the capacity to rescue or have not yet reached will likely not survive. I saw an interview with a person from an aid agency who said that some people are rescued from areas where the water is metres deep and taken to areas where the water is ankle deep. There is little dry ground. In some areas provisions in the form of dry biscuits and water purification tablets have been dropped by air.

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In the aftermath of the cyclone, flood waters are not draining, they are rising. Brutally, heavy rain is still falling, more dams are at risk of bursting so flood gates may be opened, and rivers already in flood are accumulating even more waters draining from the higher ground inland. The bad weather is making rescue operations even more precarious.

Untold numbers of livestock and other animals have perished and vast swathes of agricultural lands have been inundated with water destroying this season’s harvest. The aftermath is almost unimaginable. Waterborne disease and lack of food are stark realities facing thousands of people who no longer have homes, have nowhere safe to go nor the means to get even to relative safety, and part of rescue efforts will be addressing such overwhelming demands.

Mozambique, formerly a Portuguese colony, suffered a long civil war from 1977 to 1992. Despite significant post-war economic development Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

We first visited Mozambique in December 1998/1999, driving up the coastal road from KwaZulu-Natal and travelling further north and on into Malawi. Then Mozambique was rebuilding after the protracted war and during the time of our visit the evidence of the prolonged war was still apparent.

We drove through minefields that were marked off by red and white hazard tape. It took over two decades to clear the thousands of antipersonnel mines that made potentially productive land dangerous and unusable, see here.

After Cyclone Idai roads and bridges have been destroyed by the floods, but during the war many bridges were destroyed by bombs and mortars.

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This bridge, damaged in the civil war, by 1997 had been made passable with a temporary repair

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Another bridge that was destroyed during the war. Having to rebuild after the war Mozambique was dealt another blow with further major damage after a cyclone in 2000, and now the unimaginable damage following the recent Cyclone Idai

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Other tangible evidence of the war included abandoned military hardware and vehicles such as this tank 

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We visited Gorongoza National Park, which had been severely impacted by the war. This is one of the many buildings in the former tourist camp that showed signs of shrapnel and mortar damage

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Graffiti dated 1985, left by soldiers in a guard house at the small air strip in Gorongoza National Park

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Rising in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, the Pungwe River forms the southern border of the Gorongoza National Park. It is joined by tributaries as it flows to the coast, entering the sea at the port city of Beira. This photograph of the fast flowing Pungwe River, we took from a bridge on the edge of the Gorongoza National Park in December 1998. This area has been severely affected after Cyclone Idai. Most staff have been evacuated from the park, and park personnel and helicopters are assisting hundreds of people who are trapped in the Upper Pungwe region without food and water

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We visited Beira in January 2003 when this picture was taken of fishermen’s dugout canoes on Macuti beach. Many residents of Beira are dependent on the ocean for their living. In the background, the hull of an old shipwreck lies on the beach, ironically near the lighthouse

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 Beira Cathedral, built in 1925, graces the city that was severely affected by the civil war. The city sustained damage in the cyclone in 2000, and now after Cyclone Idai it is estimated that 90% of the city has been destroyed. I took this photo in 2003.

Countrywide in Mozambique, it is thought that approximately 3,000 sq km (1,200 sq miles) is in the current flood zone. Floods up to 7 metres deep have caused incredible devastation, for example in the Buzi area that is near Beira. In Mozambique approximately 600,000 people have been directly impacted by the cyclone, with the World Food Programme estimating that 1.7 million people in the country will eventually need help as a result of the disaster. Cyclone Idai is believed to be one of the worst tropical cyclones ever to take place in the southern hemisphere.

In eastern Zimbabwe over 200,000 people have been directly affected by flooding and infrastructure damage, and in Malawi over 80,000 people have been displaced, with many killed or injured in both countries.

Mozambicans have had to face so many challenges, rebuild their lives and rebuild the country in so many ways. It is inconceivable that their resilience is now confronted with a disaster of the magnitude of Cyclone Idai.

I think back to the resourcefulness of people whom we witnessed when on our visits to Mozambique. The following photographs all taken in 2003 pay tribute to ordinary people in Mozambique who are today facing such an extraordinary tragedy.

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A busy market selling mostly fresh produce and other everyday goods too

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A stall selling two-metre lengths of colourful cloth that is worn by many women as a skirt. It is also used to make other forms of clothing including dresses and shawls, and it is adapted for other uses including as slings for carrying babies. In Mozambique the cloth is referred to as a capulana

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 At a roadside stall selling clay pots. The largest pots, used to store water, can be partially buried in the sand near the doorway to a house where they keep water clean and cool. These pots were made on site – they are hand coiled and fired in open pits

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 On a side road to a seaside resort, children adorned with leaves kick up the dust as they dance with enthusiasm hoping to earn some money from passing tourists

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 Timber and thatch on sale at roadside stalls. When rebuilding can eventually commence in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, after such widespread flooding where will such building material be sourced?

As emergency rescue operations shift to more long-term rescue and relief measures, government and UN agencies and NGOs will be fully stretched. If you would like to assist such rescue operations by making a donation, please click here for a list of nine aid agencies that are working in the region to assist survivors of Cyclone Idai. For further suggestions on how to help see here.

* The photo featured at the top of this post of an approaching storm was taken in 2003 in Zambezia Province in Mozambique.

Posted by Carol

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