After the Cyclone, Faith Abides Story by Kathy L. Gilbert, photos by Mike DuBose

ABOVE: Isabel João (right) and Maria Lidia António salvage what they can of their corn crop, which was killed when their field was flooded by Cyclone Idai in Buzi, Mozambique. “Hunger is the number one problem now,” João said.

Cyclone Idai came in the darkest hours of the night, and she did not come quietly.

With winds up to 125 miles per hour, the cyclone ripped tin roofs off houses and hurtled them like deadly missiles that killed and maimed.

Otherwise placid rivers jumped their banks and submerged towns and villages, drowning hundreds and leaving hundreds of thousands more with no homes or possessions throughout Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The final death toll is 843 — but hundreds are still missing.

One month later, Isabel João and her mother and aunt, Maria Lidia and Luise Marufo António, were scavenging for food in their cornfields in Buzi, where fully-grown cornstalks were black from days spent under water. The cyclone came just days before the corn would have been harvested, robbing the planters of a year’s supply of food.

Ruined cornstalks stand in a flooded field following Cyclone Idai in Buzi. The storm destroyed much of the corn crop before it could be harvested.

The women were bright spots in a sea of green grass as they slowly picked their way through the muddy fields. The trio toiled silently under the hot sun.

Checking each stalk, they shucked the rotten corn and piled the cobs on the ground to take home. They were hoping for enough to eat, feed their animals and perhaps harvest seed kernels that will be sowed into the dark earth for the next planting season in August.

“Hunger is the number one problem now,” said João.

Isabel João shucks corn covered in mud as she tries to salvage something of her crop, which was killed when her fields flooded during Cyclone Idai.
Muddy ears of corn, many of them stunted and rotting after being submerged in the floodwaters of Cyclone Idai, lay drying in the sun after being salvaged by the António family in Buzi.
Luise Marufo António picks her way through her ruined cornfield, which was destroyed by flooding during Cyclone Idai in Buzi. She is carrying a sack containing some of the stunted and rotting corn with which she hoped to feed her family.

Cyclone Idai made landfall March 14 near Beira, the fourth-largest city in Mozambique. Buzi is a rural area about 16 miles inland from Beira. Help was slow to reach Buzi because the catastrophic flooding destroyed the roads and bridges connecting it to larger areas.

“We suffered a lot. No one has a house, the roofs are gone,” said Maria. “The floods came, taking clothes, food, chickens.”

The women said the storm came while they were sleeping.

“Police sirens woke us up and (officials) told us to get together and head for higher ground,” João said. She said the storm destroyed all the houses made of tree branches and mud, but permanent buildings from brick or concrete survived.

A drive through the heart of the community is like entering a ghost town. Municipal buildings are still standing but badly damaged. Most of the people in the village made their homes from branches and tree limbs tied together then covered by mud. Those collapsed in the storm.

“We didn’t know we would survive. I think God knows what has happened and keeps protecting us,” said Luise António.

In the village, Jorge João Novo and Elias José Manuel worked on the roof of Manuel’s mother’s home.

“It was a very bad experience,” he said. “My mother doesn’t like to stay here now; there is no privacy,” he said, pointing at the bare branch walls stripped of their mud covering.

Jorge João Novo lifts a wooden pole into place to help secure an emergency tarp over his home after the roof was peeled off by Cyclone Idai in Buzi.
Elias José Manuel describes the damage to his family's home caused by Cyclone Idai in Buzi. “It was a very bad experience,” he said. “My mother doesn’t like to stay here now."
Survivors of Cyclone Idai make their way past homes and businesses that are undergoing repairs after the storm in Beira, Mozambique.

‘Thank you for your hands’

Many people from Buzi were rescued and brought to makeshift shelters like the government-run training center overseen by Georgina Alfredo. She is the director of the center for public administration in Beira.

At the height of evacuations, the center held more than 2,000 people. Most of the people from Buzi have returned home, Alfredo said. A young woman working at the shelter said there was one woman left from Buzi who did not want to go home because she lost a son in the storm.

In addition to housing and feeding the families, administrators also provide grief and psychological help.

“They are allowed to stay here until the waters recede but this is not their final home,” Alfredo said. She said people would get a two-week food kit when they leave.

Children play among rows of tents at an evacuation shelter for survivors of Cyclone Idai at the IFAPA training center in Beira.
Survivors of Cyclone Idai are caught in a sudden rain shower at the IFAPA training center in Beira.

Alfredo said the local United Methodist church in the Sofala District was the first to step in and support the sheltered people.

“Thank you for your hands, thank you for the spiritual and material support,” Alfredo said to the Revs. Jacob Jenhuro, episcopal assistant in the Mozambique North Conference, and João Sambo, pastor of Malanga 2 United Methodist Church.

Alfredo said the church’s support opened the doors for other organizations to come to their aid.

On the first day they had over 1,000 people, and all the food they had on hand was 500 kilograms of rice and 250 kilograms of beans.

“We couldn’t see how to feed all these people. The United Methodist Church stepped in to help and filled that need the same afternoon,” she said.

Since then, they have been able to provide three meals a day.

Survivors of Cyclone Idai return to their tents after being caught in a sudden rain shower at the IFAPA training center in Beira.

“By God’s grace, we have had no incidents of cholera and we have not lost any lives,” she said.

In fact, she said, they have had four babies born in the center. “The first one was given my name,” she said, laughing.

Respeito Chirrinze, Mozambique episcopal area disaster management coordinator, said that the United Methodist Committee on Relief has provided a $10,000 grant to provide food and sanitation to areas affected by Cyclone Idai. UMCOR has helped 180 families in Nicoadala in the resettlement center of Dicudiwa; 37 families in the United Methodist Church Mozambique Training Center in Dondo District in Manica Province and 35 people at the Dondo Orphanage, he said.

Survivors of Cyclone Idai staying at an evacuation shelter at the IFAPA training center in Beira, Mozambique, listen as aid workers describe plans for returning them to their homes in Buzi, many of which were destroyed by the storm.

No more trees

The Rev. Francisco Viagem Tivane, pastor of Dondo United Methodist Church, surveying the damage in his community commented, “People probably won’t plant trees near their homes after this cyclone.”

Large coconut trees are uprooted and lying on the ground in crazy directions. Many fell on houses.

“When the cyclone started, I never thought it would have this impact,” said Lolita Meleco Nhavotso, a member of Tivane’s church.

Trees that were shredded by Cyclone Idai stand along the seawall in Beira.
The Rev. Fancisco Viagem Tivane describes damage to Dondo United Methodist Church and the surrounding community from Cyclone Idai in Dondo, Mozambique. Tivane is a graduate of The United Methodist Church's Africa University.

Sitting on a mat, picking through a platter of roasted peanuts, Nhavotso recalled the night of March 14.

She said around noon, the wind started blowing. She tried to go to bed at 8 p.m. but at midnight, she walked outside to see what was going on.

“That’s wasn’t easy, some trees had already fallen,” she said. The storm roared across the village around 1 a.m. The roof of her sister-in-law’s house came off and the family crowded into Nhavosto’s house. Eventually, her roof also came off.

“I am very limited to even think what I am going to do,” she said. “I use my cell phone for a light at night.”

Lolita Meleco Nhavotso takes a break from shelling peanuts while sitting outside her kitchen in Dondo. The kitchen was destroyed when a palm tree fell on it during Cyclone Idai. Nhavotso is a member of Dondo United Methodist Church.

Thousands are still without electricity — Idai snapped and bent the electric poles in her path. Along the roads, men are working on rewiring the country.

“I continue holding my faith,” Nhavosto said. “This wasn’t somebody’s fault, it happened to everyone for a reason. I still believe my God loves me.”

Not far away, the Rev. Benilde Facaias Pale, director of Dondo United Methodist Orphanage, stood watching men working to repair the roof of one of the dormitories.

The staff and the 24 children living there sheltered in the bunk beds, “and that saved us from the flying iron tins of the roof,” she said.

Homes under repair are covered with blue emergency tarps or still open to the sky weeks after Cyclone Idai tore through Beira.
Survivors of Cyclone Idai make their way past downed power lines outside Beira. Residents were breaking up the pavement on an abandoned section of road in order to salvage the aggregate stones, which they hoped to sell in order to raise funds to help repair their homes.
A survivor of Cyclone Idai carries relief supplies from a distribution center for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Beira.
One lane of Mozambique's N6 Highway lies in ruins near Tica after flooding washed out the roadbed.
Natalia Inacio stands amid the rubble of her home which collapsed when the mud bricks used for its walls became saturated by wind-driven rain during Cyclone Idai in Gondola, Mozambique.

Shelter in the storm

The Gondola Training Center, a United Methodist school for church leaders, became shelter for many in the area during the critical days after Cyclone Idai hit Chimoio and surrounding areas.

Natalia Inacio was sleeping inside her tiny home with 10 family members, including eight children. They ran to the center when the winds and rain started taking their home apart.

Almoco Julice and his wife, Louisa Albeino, said they were surprised by the ferocity of the storm. They also fled to the center.

The Rev. Filipe Elija Massango describes the damage caused by Cyclone Idai to a small chapel used by the United Methodist Gondola Training Center. Massango is superintendent of the church's Manica District.

The Rev. Filipe Elija Massango, superintendent of the Manica District, and the Rev. Manuel Maswanganhe, Gondola Training Center’s director, said that the center was damaged but it was the families who really suffered the most.

Massango said 28 families — 126 people — huddled in one of the buildings. Some still come to the school for a safe place to sleep at night, he added.

“All those days when it was still raining, we fed them three meals a day,” he said. “After that we could only offer lunch.”

There is a water pump on the campus and four wells in the community, all built by The United Methodist Church.

“We drink clean water but malaria still prevails,” Maswanganhe said. “We have not experienced cholera.”

Almoco Julice (right) describes the damage caused to his family's home by Cyclone Idai in Gondola. He has used plastic sheeting to temporarily patch the home's mud walls. During the height of the storm, Julice and his family fled to the nearby Gondola Training Center, a United Methodist school for church leaders to seek better shelter.

no more fruit

Macate United Methodist Church sits on a hilltop near Chimoio. After Cyclone Idai, it still sits on that hilltop, topless.

“The house of the Lord has been destroyed,” said the Rev. Robert Onisimus Zitsandza. “Because we have no roof, we worship under this tree.”

The Rev. Jacob Jenhuro inspects damage to Macate United Methodist Church after the roof was torn off by Cyclone Idai near Chimoio, Mozambique. Jenhuro is episcopal assistant in the Mozambique North Conference.

Candida Ernesto, lay leader, said she really can’t say how long she has been the lay leader. “Almost every pastor who comes wants me to work with them as lay leader. One of my responsibilities is to make sure people are moving forward in their Christian lives.”

When the cyclone was raging, Ernesto said she was not afraid. She said John 3:16 sustains her. That verse says: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

“I understood everything is under God’s control. Only God knows why something happens this way or that.”

Lucas Filipe Paulo Mugadue, the chair of United Methodist Men, called it a miracle that so many survived.

LEFT: Lay leader Candida Ernesto said she was not afraid when Cyclone Idai tore the roof off of Macate United Methodist Church near Chimoio. RIGHT: Joaquina Ferro Jeque describes roofs being torn from homes surrounding Macate United Methodist Church during Cyclone Idai. Jeque is chair of the church's United Methodist Women.

United Methodist Women chair Joaquina Ferro Jeque said lots of the fruit that Macate is known for was destroyed in the storm.

“Iron sheets flew off our houses and we found them on the roadsides. That is something that is very sad to us but we were delivered by God’s hand.”

Ernesto had one last message to the rest of The United Methodist Church: “We are not going back; we continue to go forward.”

At the end of the meeting, the group gathered under the tree, singing “Forward with Jesus.”

Members of Macate United Methodist Church sing outside their sanctuary, which was damaged by Cyclone Idai.

Gilbert is a news writer and DuBose is staff photographer for United Methodist News Service. Contact them at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.


Mike DuBose

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