Fatima Randinho held her grandchild tightly on her left hip while clutching a wrapped-up black plastic sheeting under her right arm. She was making her way back to where her house once stood in Metuchira, a village roughly 100km inland from Beira, after spending a few nights at a school.
Randinho, like thousands of other Mozambicans, lost everything when Cyclone Idai crashed into the country more than two weeks ago, devastating large parts of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Her daughter and son-in-law were swept away by flash floods, leaving her two-year-old grandchild, Rude Luis, and his siblings orphaned.
The elderly woman was barefoot, and looked weathered and confused, while Rude had an infected lesion on his leg. Randinho said they had been to the makeshift clinic in the village to get some medication, but only got “some pills”.
“I don’t have anything to say. Only God knows what happened,” Randinho said through a translator. Standing on the drying banks of the river that flooded and swept away Rude’s parents, Randinho said she was heading back to her house to try to rebuild her life.
“I bought this big plastic bag to make a shelter. I was staying at the school, but they didn’t write my name on the list. So I’m going back now to make a shelter and cover the shelter with this bag,” she said.
Randinho was unable to get herself and Rude registered at the two schools in the village that accommodate more than 1 000 people after their homes were destroyed. The situation in Metuchira was so dire that Randinho said she last had a meal a day earlier, only thanks to the goodwill of a neighbour.
Aid slow to inland areas
According to Agostinho Domingos, 51, the local leader in Metuchira, at least 21 people were killed in this village when Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique. Randinho’s daughter and son-in-law were just two of the nine people swept away by flash floods.
But while areas such as Buzi and Praia Nova in Beira received immediate aid and assistance, the people in Metuchira and surrounding areas in the Nhamatanda District had to wait much longer for aid, food and medical care to arrive. The clinic in Metuchira was destroyed and people seeking medical attention were treated at a small tent operated by a few staff members of an aid organisation.
“The situation is very critical here,” said Domingos. “The main problem we have here is food and access to doctors. People are getting sick, they’re getting diarrhoea and vomiting, and some people are getting malaria,” he said.
Domingos said people had been sleeping in two of the local schools without access to mosquito nets. And although he wasn’t aware of any reported cases of cholera in his village, there were reports of cholera outbreaks in other parts of Beira.
While Domingos spoke to New Frame, the crowd outside his office queuing to get a ticket to collect donated food from a collection point grew much larger. Their frustration with the slow process of queuing for hours for a ticket was palpable.
Queuing to survive
Gilda Albano, 26, confronted one of the officials because her name was not on the list to get a ticket. Afterwards, she explained that she was in hospital when names were initially written down and registered for food aid.
“I want to cry. I don’t have food and our house is destroyed,” she said. “When the people came to take our names for food, I was in hospital. When I got back here, they refused to put my name on the list.”
“I have children at home. We don’t have any food. I just want to get anything to feed my children,” the desperate mother of seven said. She was eventually pushed back into the crowd by security outside Domingos’ office.
Anitides Armando, a spokesperson for Mozambique’s National Disaster Management Institute (INGC), said the district of Nhamatanda recorded 132 deaths, with 31 people still missing. The Cyclone affected 272 656 people, with nearly 12 000 people having to be moved to camps and resettlements.
Within the Nhamatanda district, the village of Chirassicua had all 31 people missing. But for the INGC it has been extremely difficult to get to the village because it is inaccessible by road and boat.
About 20km down the road from Metuchira, on the way to Beira, an informal camp for people who lost their homes during the cyclone has sprung up. Dolca Felix, 25, her husband, and their three children have been living here for the last two weeks after their home was destroyed.
“You can see, living in these small tents aren’t nice. We only got a mosquito net, a plate, and a blanket when we arrived,” Felix said while sitting in the shade next to her tent and cradling her 6-month-old son in her lap.
Inside her tent were a few of her possessions she managed to save, including some clothes, and the mat she uses to sleep on. In the late afternoon sun, being inside the tent was stifling and uncomfortable.
“The conditions here are not good. As a mother, I don’t feel good staying here. But we have no other way. I just have to accept what we have and see what happens,” she said.
Felix said she walked about 2km twice a day to fetch water from the nearest well, while her husband tries to catch fish in the river to feed the family. He hoped to catch a little extra every day so he could sell the surplus and make some money to buy other essentials, but it has rarely happened.
“I have to ask people for food or for money for food. It is very difficult to stay this way. When the sun comes up, my husband leaves to try and catch some fish.”
Earlier in the day, Odete Joao, 17, her six-month-old daughter Catarina Conde, and Odete’s siblings stood on the side of the road hoping for some donations. Odete and her siblings lost their parents, aunt and grandmother following the flash floods caused by the cyclone.
Odete, with Catarina wrapped to her back, fled the house as the water level inside it rose. She escaped without keeping near her parents and was forced to climb a tree as the floodwaters rose rapidly and the current got stronger.
“[Me and my baby] slept in the tree that night. Some guys came with a boat [the next morning] and rescued me,” she said. Odete said while she was in the tree, she saw people swept away by the water and others drowning.
Odete’s brother, Joaquim Antonio, 17, broke into tears when talking about losing their parents. “We don’t have any other family to take [care] of us. I’m not good with all of this at all. We don’t have food, but some people are trying to help us with food,” he said, trembling and looking down at the ground.
“I will not forget that night. I lost my family that night, so I will never forget it,” Joaquim said. Their parents’ bodies were recovered, but the children aren’t able to arrange burials for them because they don’t have enough money.
While many Mozambicans returned to what remained of their homes planning to rebuild their lives, Odete and Joaquim and their siblings are unsure of where they will sleep.