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Inside the desperate mission to rescue people in Mozambique after Cyclone Idai

With roads destroyed and a lack of helicopters, aid is struggling to get to people in remote areas.

by Alex Campbell and Ben Ferguson
Mar 29 2019, 4:36pm

BEIRA, Mozambique — Hundreds of thousands of people are still without food, clean water, or homes almost two weeks after Cyclone Idai tore through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi and killed at least 700 people while impacting millions more.

Now, 138 confirmed cases of cholera have been reported in Beira, a port city in Mozambique. The outbreak has sparked fears that the disaster recovery will soon become a longterm health emergency.

Cyclone Idai hit Beira at midnight on March 14 with winds of 125 mph and torrential storms that burst the banks of two major rivers and flooded an area covering more than 1,600 square miles.

Only in the past few days has it become possible to pass, slowly, along the battered road to Beira Airport, which has become the makeshift headquarters of the international aid operation. But villagers in the hardest hit communities remain stranded while relief efforts struggle to reach them on roads decimated in the disaster. A lack of helicopters in the country has further hobbled response efforts. Food is not being delivered; supplies are not reaching people fast enough.

Gerald Bourke, from the United Nations World Food Programme, told VICE News that despite the obstacles, the recovery is slowly coming together.

“It’s gathering pace, but we need to do a lot more, and we need to accelerate,” he said.

More than 100,000 people are now living in refugee camps. Many others are taking shelter in schools, churches, and orphanages — overcrowded temporary homes surrounded by pools of putrid flood water, which some are still using to drink and wash.

The storm decimated Ignasio Augusto’s home, in the coastal village of Praia Nova. “Nothing is left. The house fell down,” he told VICE News.

Augusto's now sheltering with his family, packed alongside hundreds of others, in an elementary school partially destroyed by the winds.

“This is how we sleep,” he said, pointing to the small plot of floor his family now occupies. “On sleeping bags, on the pavement. Women and men together."

The cyclone’s destruction is breathtaking: Whole towns are flooded, roads are blocked by mud, and bridges are ruined. The destruction stretches as far inland as Gôndola, more than 120 miles from the epicenter of the crisis.

Even that far from the eye of the storm, the rains have made access slow or impossible. An aid team attempting to survey the damage using drones was stricken by mud during our journey. It took four hours of digging by men from a nearby town to free their 4x4 from the water.

Villagers in Gôndola are facing the same problems as the hardest hit communities on the coast. But it could take several months to establish the true death toll and longer term impact of this storm on crops and food supplies. For now, the priority remains survival.

“It has been difficult to get out there. You have communities who have been isolated for a long time. The full dimensions of it have yet to become clear," the U.N.'s Bourke said.

This segment originally aired March 28, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

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recovery
Vice News Tonight
Natural Disaster
Cyclone Idai