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, killing at least 700 people and impacting millions more.
Now, the first outbreak of cholera has been reported, sparking fears that this disaster recovery will soon become a long-term health emergency.
The cyclone hit the port city of Beira at midnight on March 14, bringing winds of 125mph and torrential storms that burst the banks of two major rivers and flooded an area covering more than 1,600 square miles.
A major international aid operation is now underway in Beira as waters begin to recede. 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.
More than 100,000 people are now living in refugee camps. Many others are taking shelter in schools, churches and orphanages; their over-crowded temporary homes surrounded by pools of putrid flood water, which some are still using to drink and wash.
Ignasio Augusto’s home, in the coastal village of Praia Nova, was decimated by the storm.
“Nothing is left. The house fell down,” Ignasio said.
He’s now sheltering with his family, packed alongside hundreds of others, in an elementary school which was itself 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,” Ignasio said.
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 this 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 4×4 from the water.
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.
Villagers here are facing the same problems as the hardest hit communities on the coast: food is not being delivered; supplies are not reaching them 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.
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.”
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