SA journo attends Cyclone Idai rescue mission

By Venal Naidu Time of article published Mar 29, 2019

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Durban - FOR AWARD-winning journalist Dasen Thathiah no amount of training could have equipped him to prepare for covering a rescue mission near South Africa’s borders where a cyclone had hit.

Cyclone Idai struck Beira in Mozambique earlier this month, resulting in thousands being left homeless, with the death toll at more than 400.

In its aftermath, the citizens face contracting cholera.

“What helps in this situation is knowing that you have a team around you, who have your back, regardless,” said Thathiah, who is back home in South Africa and at work for eNCA.

He said he was “surrounded by breaking news everywhere” but due to the telecommunications being down, he could not relay stories to the newsroom.

Thathiah had to think on his feet. He made arrangements with an army officer to submit a tape of the footage to Maputo and from there to Johannesburg.

After eight days in Mozambique, where he had seen people clinging to trees for safety, Thathiah and cameraman Francois Grobler got a flight out.

“On one hand, we wanted to get back home to our families and our loved ones, but at the same time, we couldn’t shake the thought of those people who didn’t make it and the thousands that hadn’t been rescued.

“At the same time, there was a sense of pride that a South African team got into Mozambique and saved so many lives.”

He said he had covered the typhoon in the Philippines in 2013, and the aftermath of what he had seen there was tragic.

“There were dead bodies, homes broken and people washed away. I saw that. There was something different about this disaster, mostly because we had anticipated it.

“We got there when the conditions were still very poor and apart from going there to do a job, it was also a fight for survival. It was a very risky situation, and something that is just hard to describe.”

Reflecting on the trip, he said that after travelling by car on March 13 from Durban to the Mozambican border, car difficulties resulted in him and Grobler ditching their vehicle and hitching a ride with Paul Herbst of IPSS medical rescue. Herbst was part of the South African rescue team bound for the southern African nation.

When cyclone Idai struck Beira, the second largest city in Mozambique, Thathiah was at a guest house in Valankulu, about 460km away.

He said the strong gusts of wind had blown the roofs off homes and trees were uprooted.

The following morning they travelled 12 hours to Beira, and about 150km from the city, electricity poles were strewn on the ground and he had lost his cellphone signal.

Due to the rough terrain, they were forced to leave a rescue boat at a nearby police station, opting to take the trailer with all their emergency supplies.

“At least 90% of the properties were damaged and every electricity pole was down. The N6 (national road), on which we entered the city, was washed away.”

IPSS, he said, had saved 25 people on an inflatable boat by travelling back and forth from water to land.

“The people were holding onto anything solid, either a tree branch or concrete.”

The next day, the road where they had completed their rescue mission had washed away.

The South African rescue teams then focused on using helicopters to help relocate people to high-lying areas.

This resulted in the SANDF airlifting 377 people over two days. He said the Indian Navy had also used its vessels to rescue those in distress.


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