Wading through waist-deep water to reach the beach of Praia Nova, Fernando Luis Chiweia brought his wife, son and the two bags containing their possessions to Beira after Cyclone Idai destroyed their home.
The family managed to board a fishing vessel with at least 100 other people in Nova Sofala in Buzi and travelled for four hours across the Baia de Sofala (Bay of Sofala) to reach the relative comfort and safety of Beira.
Chiweia’s home was completely wiped out after Cyclone Idai wreaked havoc in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. More than 800 people have been confirmed dead following the cyclone, which had sustained winds of nearly 200km/h, and the flash floods that followed.
“We lost our house. We lost everything. I’m bringing my family here,” Chiweia said, his seven-year-old son José clutching at his mother’s leg.
“This is all I’ve got,” Chiweia said, gesturing to the two bags and two sacks of coconuts he brought with him to Beira. Chiweia, 41, was hoping to sell the coconuts to raise enough money to rent a room for himself and his family in Beira.
“I’m feeling okay because I didn’t lose my family. But I feel bad because our house, everything around it, our papers [ID documents] and my child’s things were destroyed,” Chiweia said.
‘We lost everything’
Daudo Joao, 29, arrived on the same boat with his two wives and two young children. His four-month-old daughter, Joaquina, was visibly ill, but Joao said he was unable to access any healthcare in Nova Sofala.
Joaquina’s mother, Sonia Augusto, 25, said: “I had malaria and my baby had malaria … All of a sudden the storm came and the walls [of the house] were shaking. We ran outside … We lost everything, we built a little structure and stayed there until we could come here.”
Sonia said she was feeling better after shaking off a bout of malaria, but Joaquina was still ill, her head flopping weakly to the side and her eyes heavy. “In Nova Sofala there was no hospital anymore. There’s no medicine because the storm destroyed everything,” she explained.
These two families are among the thousands in Mozambique that the cyclone has displaced. Many of them are living in temporary shelters they built themselves or camps set up by aid organisations.
The cyclone devastated the port city of Beira, with the residents of Praia Nova, a settlement on the beach, being among the first in Mozambique to experience the devastating and deadly effects.
As the cyclone swept through Mozambique, causing massive flooding in harder-to-reach rural areas further inland, people like Chiweia and Joao lost all they had. They brought their families to Beira as the initial aid and emergency responses were focused on the city. Aid was limited or non-existent in the more rural areas, where some villages were completely wiped out.
Just metres from the beach, the sound of hammering on zinc sheets signals Praia Nova residents’ attempts to pick up the pieces and rebuild their homes and lives.
The cyclone completely levelled some of the brick homes in Praia Nova and tore apart zinc shacks in the settlement. Debris, clothes, shoes and toys lie scattered among the remains of people’s homes.
There are massive pools of flood water in certain areas of the settlement, which is preventing some residents from starting to rebuild. But others, like Bernardo Salvador, 58, a single father of five and a chef at a local hotel, have been able to build a shelter.
He built a shack for himself and his family next to the rubble where his house once stood, using the zinc panels that were previously the roof of his brick house.
“I feel like a child without a mother. I feel like nothing. We lost everything,” Salvador said, as his 17-year-old son, André, rested his head on his father’s shoulder.
Salvador said his children would be unable to go to school for some time as he would have to spend his income on trying to rebuild their home. “I’ve been staying here for 11 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. We will rebuild our house, but right now I don’t have any money.”
‘We had to run’
Gloria Artur, 24, brought her three-year-old son, Willfred Banze, back to where their house once stood in Ndunda, Beira, after fleeing the night of the cyclone.
“He kept saying, ‘Mommy, Mommy, let’s go home, let’s go home.’ But he doesn’t understand [what happened to the house]. He’s very young, he just wants to sleep in his own house and play with his own toys. But it wasn’t possible to save his toys, we had to run,” she said, Willfred hiding behind her.
Artur said her husband moved whatever furniture and belongings weren’t damaged when their house caved in. Some remnants could be seen sticking out from the rubble of the ruined house.
“This is painful. It is painful to have nothing,” she said. “My husband works as a builder. We need to save money to rebuild. But I don’t know, we have to try something to rebuild. We don’t feel comfortable to stay at my sister’s house.”
Josefa Tomocene Mateus, the principal at Escola Primária Completa do Aeroporto in Mutondo near the Beira airport, which has nearly 1 500 learners, said the cyclone took most of the roof off the school.
“After the cyclone, everything was destroyed. The teachers tried to rescue what they could,” she said, standing among textbooks placed on the ground in an attempt to dry them out.
“We’re in shock. We lost almost everything [and] we don’t have any support. We want to fix things but we don’t have any help,” she said, gesturing to a classroom where one wall had collapsed and the roof was missing.
The tin roofs of nearly all the classrooms in the school were either completely or partially blown away.
“We can’t do our jobs because the kids [get sunburnt] because there’s no roof. They can’t sit in the sun the whole day. So we can’t teach like this,” said the frustrated principal.
The principal and teachers, like the residents of all cyclone-affected areas in Mozambique, face a huge rebuilding task, from reroofing to restoring a semblance of normal life.