As cyclone slams Africa, churches, aid agencies coordinate response
By Bronwen Dachs | Catholic News Service
CAPE TOWN, South Africa • Two boys at a Catholic boarding school in Zimbabwe are among the more than 300 people killed in the aftermath of a cyclone that slammed into Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in mid-March. Officials fear the death toll from the cyclone could reach 1,000.
A landslide sent rocks crashing into a dormitory at St. Charles Lwanga Seminary Secondary School in Mutare Diocese, trapping about 50 students and staff. They dug themselves out, and teachers carried the boys’ bodies for about 10 miles in the Chimanimani district, a mountainous area in eastern Zimbabwe, before the group was picked up by the army and taken to the nearest hospital.
In Mozambique, more than 200 people have died and nearly 350,000 are at risk, President Filipe Nyusi said March 19. In Zimbabwe, the government said about 100 people had died, but the death toll could triple.
“It’s very difficult to know the extent of the damage” and the death toll, with collapsed infrastructure and communication lines down, Erica Dahl-Bredine, Catholic Relief Services’ representative for Mozambique, said in a March 18 telephone interview.
Beira, Mozambique’s second-largest city and a major port, “is almost completely destroyed, and some areas outside the city are impossible to reach,” she said. The cyclone knocked out electricity, shut down Beira’s international airport and cut off access to the city by road.
“People are stranded on roofs of houses and in trees, waiting for help,” Dahl-Bredine said, noting that roads and bridges have been washed away.
With overflowing rivers, whole villages have been submerged and bodies were floating in the floodwaters, she said.
Catholic Relief Services is working with local Caritas and other church and relief groups to assess the needs and provide help, she said.
Mozambique is a long, narrow country of about 30 million people with a 1,500-mile coastline along the Indian Ocean.
The cyclone, called Idai, landed in Beira late March 14 before moving to Zimbabwe with strong winds and heavy rain.
Because Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, the “sheer force and strength of the cyclone” was worse than anticipated, Rita Billingsley, who works for Catholic Relief Services in Zimbabwe, said in a March 19 telephone interview from the capital, Harare.
Catholic Relief Services is collecting for cyclone victims: visit crs.org.