June 15, 2019
Story by Kathy L. Gilbert, Photos by Mike DuBose
With winds up to 125 miles per hour, the cyclone ripped tin roofs off houses and hurtled them like deadly missiles that killed and maimed.
Otherwise placid rivers jumped their banks and submerged towns and villages, drowning hundreds and leaving hundreds of thousands more with no homes or possessions throughout Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The final death toll is 843 — but hundreds are still missing.
One month later, Isabel João and her mother and aunt, Maria Lidia and Luise Marufo António, were scavenging for food in their cornfields in Buzi, where fully-grown cornstalks were black from days spent under water. The cyclone came just days before the corn would have been harvested, robbing the planters of a year’s supply of food.
The women were bright spots in a sea of green grass as they slowly picked their way through the muddy fields. The trio toiled silently under the hot sun.
Checking each stalk, they shucked the rotten corn and piled the cobs on the ground to take home. They were hoping for enough to eat, feed their animals and perhaps harvest seed kernels that will be sowed into the dark earth for the next planting season in August.
“Hunger is the number one problem now,” said João.
Cyclone Idai made landfall March 14 near Beira, the fourth-largest city in Mozambique. Buzi is a rural area about 16 miles inland from Beira. Help was slow to reach Buzi because the catastrophic flooding destroyed the roads and bridges connecting it to larger areas.
“We suffered a lot. No one has a house, the roofs are gone,” said Maria. “The floods came, taking clothes, food, chickens.”
The women said the storm came while they were sleeping.
“Police sirens woke us up and (officials) told us to get together and head for higher ground,” João said.
She said the storm destroyed all the houses made of tree branches and mud, but permanent buildings from brick or concrete survived.
A drive through the heart of the community is like entering a ghost town. Municipal buildings are still standing but badly damaged. Most of the people in the village made their homes from branches and tree limbs tied together then covered by mud. Those collapsed in the storm.
“We didn’t know we would survive. I think God knows what has happened and keeps protecting us,” said Luise António.
In the village, Jorge João Novo and Elias José Manuel worked on the roof of Manuel’s mother’s home.
“It was a very bad experience,” he said. “My mother doesn’t like to stay here now; there is no privacy,” he said, pointing at the bare branch walls stripped of their mud covering.
Thank You for Your Hands
Many people from Buzi were rescued and brought to makeshift shelters like the government-run training center overseen by Georgina Alfredo. She is the director of the center for public administration in Beira.
At the height of evacuations, the center held more than 2,000 people. Most of the people from Buzi have returned home, Alfredo said. A young woman working at the shelter said there was one woman left from Buzi who did not want to go home because she lost a son in the storm.
In addition to housing and feeding the families, administrators also provide grief and psychological help.
“They are allowed to stay here until the waters recede but this is not their final home,” Alfredo said. She said people would get a two-week food kit when they leave.
Alfredo said the local United Methodist church in the Sofala District was the first to step in and support the sheltered people.
“Thank you for your hands, thank you for the spiritual and material support,” Alfredo said to the Revs. Jacob Jenhuro, episcopal assistant in the Mozambique North Conference, and João Sambo, pastor of Malanga United Methodist Church.
Alfredo said the church’s support opened the doors for other organizations to come to their aid.
On the first day they had over 1,000 people, and all the food they had on hand was 500 kilograms of rice and 250 kilograms of beans.
“We couldn’t see how to feed all these people. The United Methodist Church stepped in to help and filled that need the same afternoon,” she said.
Since then, they have been able to provide three meals a day.
“By God’s grace, we have had no incidents of cholera and we have not lost any lives,” she said.
In fact, she said, they have had four babies born in the center. “The first one was given my name,” she said, laughing.
Respeito Chirrinze, Mozambique episcopal area disaster management coordinator, said that the United Methodist Committee on Relief has provided a $10,000 grant to provide food and sanitation to areas affected by Cyclone Idai. UMCOR has helped 180 families in Nicoadala in the resettlement center of Dicudiwa; 37 families in the United Methodist Church Mozambique Training Center in Dondo District in Manica Province and 35 people at the Dondo Orphanage, he said.
No More Trees
The Rev. Francisco Viagem Tivane, pastor of Dondo United Methodist Church, surveying the damage in his community commented, “People probably won’t plant trees near their homes after this cyclone.”
Large coconut trees are uprooted and lying on the ground in crazy directions. Many fell on houses.
“When the cyclone started, I never thought it would have this impact,” said Lolita Meleco Nhavotso, a member of Tivane’s church.
Sitting on a mat, picking through a platter of roasted peanuts, Nhavotso recalled the night of March 14.
She said around noon, the wind started blowing. She tried to go to bed at 8 p.m. but at midnight, she walked outside to see what was
“That’s wasn’t easy, some trees had already fallen,” she said. The storm roared across the village around 1 a.m. The roof of her sister-in-law’s house came off and the family crowded into Nhavosto’s house.
Eventually, her roof also came off.
“I am very limited to even think what I am going to do,” she said. “I use my cell phone for a light at night.”
Thousands are still without electricity — Idai snapped and bent the electric poles in her path. Along the roads, men are working on rewiring the country.
“I continue holding my faith,” Nhavosto said. “This wasn’t somebody’s fault, it happened to everyone for a reason. I still believe my God loves me.”
Not far away, the Rev. Benilde Facaias Pale, director of Dondo United Methodist Orphanage, stood watching men working to repair the roof of one of the dormitories.
The staff and the 24 children living there sheltered in the bunk beds, “and that saved us from the flying iron tins of the roof,” she said.
Shelter in the Storm
The Gondola Training Center, a United Methodist school for church leaders, became shelter for many in the area during the critical days after Cyclone Idai hit Chimoio and surrounding areas.
Natalia Inacio was sleeping inside her tiny home with 10 family members, including eight children. They ran to the center when the winds and rain started taking their home apart.
Almoco Julice and his wife, Louisa Albeino, said they were surprised by the ferocity of the storm. They also fled to the center. The Rev. Filipe Elija Massango, superintendent of the Manica District, and the Rev. Manuel Maswanganhe, Gondola Training Center’s director, said that the center was damaged but it was the families who really suffered the most.
Massango said 28 families — 126 people — huddled in one of the buildings. Some still come to the school for a safe place to sleep at night, he added.
“All those days when it was still raining, we fed them three meals a day,” he said. “After that we could only offer lunch.”
There is a water pump on the campus and four wells in the community, all built by The United Methodist Church.
“We drink clean water but malaria still prevails,” Maswanganhe said. “We have not experienced cholera.”
No More Fruit
Macate United Methodist Church sits on a hilltop near Chimoio. After Cyclone Idai, it still sits on that hilltop, topless.
“The house of the Lord has been destroyed,” said the Rev. Robert Onisimus Zitsandza. “Because we have no roof, we worship under this tree.”
Candida Ernesto, lay leader, said she really can’t say how long she has been the lay leader. “Almost every pastor who comes wants me to work with them as lay leader. One of my responsibilities is to make sure people are moving forward in their Christian lives.”
When the cyclone was raging, Ernesto said she was not afraid. She said John 3:16 sustains her. That verse says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
“I understood everything is under God’s control. Only God knows why something happens this way or that.”
Lucas Filipe Paulo Mugadue, the chair of United Methodist Men, called it a miracle that so many survived.
United Methodist Women chair Joaquina Ferro Jeque said lots of the fruit that Macate is known for was destroyed in the storm.
“Iron sheets flew off our houses and we found them on the roadsides. That is something that is very sad to us but we were delivered by God’s hand.”
Ernesto had one last message to the rest of The United Methodist Church: “We are not going back; we continue to go forward.”
At the end of the meeting, the group gathered under the tree, singing “Forward with Jesus.”
Gilbert is a news writer and DuBose is staff photographer for United Methodist News Service. Contact them at (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests at www.umcom.org.
Mozambique Initiative: How You Can Help
You can give using any of the following methods:
- Send a check to the Missouri Annual Conference, 3601 Amron Court, Columbia, Missouri, 65202, with “Mozambique disaster recovery” in the memo line.
- Donate online at www.mzinitiative.com.
- Text: Text the amount you’d like to give “MI” (For example, 50 MI) to 573-207-4546, and you will be prompted through.
Collect an offering at your church using worship resources found at www.mzinitiative.com/cyclone-idai.html
Be in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Mozambique.