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All photos: Lusa
The church and secondary school sitting above the village of Mieze in northern Mozambique served as a sanctuary for 215 people when the river overflowed and the floods invaded houses after the Cyclone Kenneth.
“They came here with nothing, with a mat, a bucket, two or three pots and nothing else, not even a piece of clothing. They were so drenched that the rooms were all wet because they were pouring water,” Brazilian nun Sister Rosa Martins da Silva recalls.
It was almost 5:00 a.m. on Sunday when she received the village administrator’s message: the rain was too heavy, and it was necessary to open the doors of the school to shelter the population fleeing their homes.
That was when four sisters of the Congregation of the Servant Sisters of the Annunciation embarked upon the most traumatic 24 hours they can remember.
The Mieze river overflowed during the 2017 rainy season too, and at that time they sheltered 20 families living along the river’s banks, but that was nothing compared to this flood and the number of people affected.
Today, you can drive to the church and school, 20 kilometres from the provincial capital, Pemba, because the water has dropped, but up until Monday the area was an island without even food aid.
Now, food donations are gradually coming in, thanks to phone calls to friends of the congregation, but they are still not enough for everyone, and Rosa Silva issues a plea for some support by the authorities.
“We have a lot of children. When children cry with hunger, the pain is greater.”
Even among the adults, weakness is tightening its grip. Maçuelo Tomo, 46, lost all the corn he had harvested from his ‘machamba’ and was keeping at home.
“I am here to see if I can sleep and eat, but I have not eaten anything since this morning. The sisters helped us with their own rice,” he says, referring to the plate of rice with oil they gave him, his first meal after fleeing the flood.
Samancade Raisse, 61, believes that “some food will come” and waits in the room where a member of the village administration is registering the homeless for the distribution of support.
On the blackboard in one of the classrooms are the notes from an English class, but now it is the rain that dictates the rules. The bodies that escaped from the floods came in “and warmed the classroom. They dried with the heat of their own bodies,” someone remembers.
In addition to food, clothing is needed, especially for infants and children, some of whom cannot even get up from the mats they are lying on because of the fever they are suffering. Sister Rosa dilutes an anti-inflammatory in water and goes around giving them all a sip.
Below, in the muddy village, almost every house – adobe-walled and grass-rooved – is damaged, and the vegetable gardens are destroyed.
Francisco Ali has one of the few houses that escaped the fury of the Mieze river, and wants to protect it at all costs, even if the rain refuses to abate and the waters rise again. Shovel in hand, he is digging a ditch right round his house “because of the rain”, he says; “this will protect it”.
Weather forecasts predict moderate to strong rainfall until the end of the week in Cabo Delgado, where Cyclone Kenneth and the floods that followed it have killed 38 people and affected about 166,000 people.
The numbers may still rise, Mozambican Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosário warned on Tuesday, because teams have yet to reach some of the more remote areas and assess the damage there.
This was the first cyclone to hit northern Mozambique since records began, and the second to inflict itself on country in less than two months, after Cyclone Idai hit the centre of the country in March, causing at least 603 deaths.