‘Water’s speed was too fast’

The Star



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People displaced by the floods rush for food aid at the Chokwe village displacement camp in the south of Mozambique.
030213.Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu531
A man is seen with his cows in the Limpopo river in the town of Xai Xai where the floods had done a lot of damage in the southern region of Mozambique.
010213. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

THERE were those who fled and those who stayed.

Hamid Khan was one of those who stayed. Even when the government issued warnings and red alerts that floods were indeed headed for the small town of Chokwe, in southern Mozambique, he remained.

After all, his electronics hardware store was all he had – it was his home and his business.

“On the 22nd (of January), I was here at the store. The government had alerted us that there was water coming, but we didn’t think it was serious, and (we thought it) wouldn’t reach us,” he said, standing outside his store, soaked and muddy.

“The water came from the right side… its speed was too fast. The level of water in the river (Limpopo River) had been too high. Within three or four hours, we had water running through the town that was up to five feet high. We no longer had time – it was impossible to evacuate.”

His employees spent the better half of the weekend picking up the pieces of what was left of what had once been their place of employment.

They washed glass tumblers and swept the muddy floors to clear the store, to assess what could remain and what was forever damaged.

“When you start a business, you never think something like this will happen, but when it did, I just couldn’t leave. This place (the store) is my past, my present and my future,” he said, staring blankly at his employees as they washed and scrubbed furniture and merchandise clean.

Since the raging waters from the Zambia and Zimbabwe rivers rushed into the Limpopo River, devastation has been the result. Since the river burst its banks, it has flooded areas about 9km on either side of it.

In the heart of Chokwe – the town hardest hit by the floods – many families have taken refuge on the roofs of their homes, and while they are surrounded by water, they remain adamant they will remain on their properties.

But the likes of 32-year-old Olga Thivane had no option but to flee from their homes when flood waters extended to the Eliyond Setumbino informal settlement, which is also in Chokwe.

Heavily pregnant and with nowhere else to go, Thivane found shelter at the Chakelani camp, about 10km from Chokwe’s inner city.

And she, along with close on 60 000 others, now calls the camp home.

At the camp, she must share a small tent with 15 others, including three-day-old Ernesto Fanwell Chauke, her son. Their new home is a thick plastic sheet supported by a tree branch to act as a roof. The floor of the home is the ground they sleep on top of.

And while little Ernesto was born healthy at a clinic in the area, she now faces the obstacle of getting food to feed herself and five children.

She looked dejectedly at her famished son as he latched on to her breast.

“My milk is not coming out… I’ve been trying, but nothing is coming out,” she said softly, tears in her eyes.

“I haven’t eaten anything since Friday afternoon,” she told The Star on Saturday.

A crowd gathered around her, forlorn at their inability to help her and her newborn baby. They too have been displaced and are desperately waiting for food parcels to arrive from aid organisations.

The numbers paint an even bleaker picture. According to local authorities, 150 000 people have been displaced, and about 20 000 are still trapped across the region.

More than 80 people have been declared dead as a result of the floods, and the threat of water and airborne diseases remains high.

All around the camp there are adults and children pleading for food and water as aid organisations come in and out, off-loading supplies.

“People here are suffering. From our area of Eliyond extension seven, there are 1 670 people alone. We get 6kg rice bags to share between 10 families… It’s not enough.”

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