Cyclone survivors in Zimbabwe burn church pews to keep warm

Cyclone survivors in Zimbabwe burn church pews to keep warm

April 19, 2019– Mary Greeley News –Stars and Stripes; On March 15 the earth shook so violently in Ngangu that people thought an earthquake had struck. It turned out to be thousands of tons of rock plowing through the eastern Zimbabwean village as rains and floods caused the surrounding hills to collapse.

It took two weeks after the storm for humanitarian aid to start to arrive.

“It sounded like a hundred trains were in the house,” said Loice Seremani, a mother of two. “Pots were falling from their shelves and no matter how hard I shouted, my children could not hear me, and I could not hear their screams.”

Ngangu, the broader Chimanimani district and the southern parts of Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands region would eventually receive 30 inches of rain in 48 hours because of Tropical Cyclone Idai. That’s about the same amount that the country’s capital, Harare, gets in a year. The landslides in Ngangu and in Kopa, an urban settlement in the adjacent Rusitu Valley, killed at least 344 people, though no one knows how many more bodies lie buried beneath the rock.

Idai affected more than 3 million people in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe and will cost the southern African nations more than $2 billion to repair the damage, the World Bank said this month. At least 1.6 million children need urgent help with healthcare, nutrition and sanitation a month after the cyclone devastated parts of the countries, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Thousands of people are suffering with cholera and malaria.

The devastation comes as Zimbabweans face an economic crisis and shortages of bread, fuel and foreign currency. Gross domestic product will contract this year for the first time since the era of hyperinflation, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the nation’s biggest mobile-network operator, is coordinating relief efforts from a farm owned by Tanganda Tea Co. in Chimanimani. That’s the worst-hit district and was a rich coffee- and tea-growing area before government-backed invasions of commercial farm land.

The company has erected large tents — guarded by the military — containing food, bedding and donations. It won’t say how much it’s spent on aid, which includes scores of new tractors, 10,000 wheel barrows, thousands of liters of aviation fuel and as much as $100,000 a day keeping as many as six helicopters in the air, spokesman Lovemore Nyatsine said. It plans to build 300 homes for widows and the elderly.

Econet has hired scores of heavy trucks to ship in food and supplies in addition to the six helicopters. Outside each distribution point, rows of shiny New Holland tractors are lined up, their seats still wrapped in plastic.

The CDC web page for Cholera in Zimbabwe and Neighboring Countries has been removed.

Ordinary Zimbabweans have responded to the crisis in their thousands, donating truckloads of food, blankets, mattresses and medical supplies and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. By default, Econet’s Nyatsine ended up coordinating much of the relief effort, leaning heavily on the army and air force.

An oral cholera vaccine (OCV) campaign targeting some 487 825 people began Tuesday in Zimbabwe in the two districts most affected by cyclone Idai.

During the campaign all residents of Chimanimani and Chipinge districts aged 12 months and older will receive the vaccine to protect them against cholera.
He gets testy when people say he’s been heroic. “It’s not about us, it’s about the survivors and victims,” Nyatsine said.

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Some areas remain cut off because bridges have yet to be repaired and a few roads are still blocked by landslides. Most, though, are open, with makeshift bridges across rivers. Local government, the areas’ disaster committees and businesses had bulldozers on the ground the day after Cyclone Idai hit.

While there have been no reported cases of cholera in the cyclone-affected areas in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and Child Care is launching the campaign, with support from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), as a proactive, preventative measure.

Funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, more than 975 000 OCV doses will be administered in two rounds for full immunity. The second dose will be given approximately two weeks after the first.

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Local authorities estimate that 60,000 people are displaced in the four worst-affected districts (Buhare, Chimanimani, Chipinge and Mutare).

In light of this week’s wet weather, upcoming cold weather, and expected movement of people for Easter holiday, operational urgencies will include distribution of non-food items, especially blankets, ensuring adequate temporary shelter for all, and oral cholera vaccination.

In a Methodist church in Ngangu, Rev. Steven Chitiyo said they burned the church pews to keep survivors warm.

“Just 15 meters (49 feet) from this church, everything was obliterated,” he said. “Rocks are all that remain, but the human spirit doesn’t die. We will recover.”

A short walk from Chitiyo’s parish, half a house remains. The rest, along with two vehicles, was crushed. The cars had carried a family to Ngangu for wedding preparations. The bride, groom, in-laws and siblings all died the night the mountain fell.

At St. John’s Roman Catholic church in Ngangu, the dead and survivors were housed side by side.

“We had to make hard choices here,” said Talkmore Maziya, an elder at the parish. “We moved the dead into the church by the pulpit. There were 42 bodies in there. The living was also sheltering inside, and we had to take blankets we’d given to children and make a curtain because we thought it’s better, they’re cold than seeing the bodies, many mutilated, being brought inside.”

The community decided to leave the dead still beneath the rocks “to rest there in peace,” Maziya said “It wouldn’t be right to disturb them further.”

The Government launched its humanitarian assistance appeal for the cyclone response, for US$613 million, targeting 16,500 households for multisectoral support through the next harvest in May 2020.

Mary Greeley News

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