‘The water kept rising’: How Mozambicans were caught in path of deadly cyclone

He told them to find a place to shelter, but many people in the once bustling estuary town did not know where to go.

Among them were 21-year-old Gaspar Armando and his extended family of 15. When the cyclone ripped though Buzi on March 14, they stayed in their four homes made of sticks and mud until the storm tore off the sheet-metal roofs and the walls collapsed.

Around midnight, with the rain horizontal, the family ran to a small concrete slaughterhouse nearby. They have lived there ever since, climbing onto the blue steel roof when the floods came.

The government knew it was going to be bad but they didn’t find us a safe place. They didn’t organize it, Armando said.

Such scenes played out in many other towns and villages, survivors said. Government and humanitarian officials said they did not anticipate the extent of flooding in one of the most severe storms to hit Africa’s east coast in more than a decade.

An early warning system implemented by the government did not reach everyone and in the poorest, most remote areas there are few solid structures where people can shelter, aid workers and residents said.

The death toll had reached 468 in Mozambique by Tuesday and hundreds of thousands of others were in need of food, water and shelter, according to the United Nations.

Many people are angry that the government did not do more to protect them. Reuters’ interviews with 18 people in four communities spread across 100 kilometers (62 miles) showed the warning systems proved insufficient.

Four of those interviewed said they had received no warning about the impending storm. The others said they were warned but were offered no help moving to a safer place.

Makeshift camps were set up on higher ground only after the flooding, they said, so many people decided to see out the storm in their homes.

We thought it would just be a little rain, said Louisa Ndega, 60, sheltering at a camp in the village of Guara Guara.

Mozambique’s land and environment minister, Celso Correia, who is leading the government’s response to the disaster, told Reuters it was not clear until the final days before the storm where it would hit.

The area under threat was too vast and, with about 7 million inhabitants, too heavily populated to be evacuated, he said.

Mozambique was also hit by deadly floods and cyclones in 2000 and 2007, and since then has beefed up its response team and implemented an early-warning system.

The system was triggered weeks before Cyclone Idai, with red flags raised to alert people to the dangers, Correia said.

He said people had been told to seek higher ground when they saw the flags flying, but that no one could have predicted the force and speed of the flooding when two big rivers burst their banks following the cyclone.

The area around the coastal town of Beira, where the cyclone made landfall, started flooding within 36 hours of the storm and was soon unrecognizable, with brown water covering the land.

These floods were extreme, Correia said. It was almost instantaneous.

Philippe Caroff, a forecaster at the regional cyclone center on the French island of La Reunion, said his agency’s forecasts were showing a high level of threat for the region almost three days before the cyclone made landfall, including storm surges of nearly four meters (13 ft) around Beira.

It was not difficult to imagine that flooding would become a problem, because the area is very flat, he said.

There had also been a significant amount of rain in the preceding months, the wet season in Mozambique, he said.

The country’s national weather service receives updates from the center, and cyclone bulletins are available on its website, Caroff said,

Source: Angola Press News Agency