The Sunday Mail
Garikai Mazara in Beira, Mozambique
Tellingly, Machipanda (Mozambique side) and Forbes (Zimbabwe side) — usually a hive of activity at any given time of the day — were relatively quiet by Thursday.
The highway linking the port city of Beira and the Southern African sub-region has been opened, allowing the movement of goods and people between Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“We are using satellite images to trace the path of the cyclone and our initial assessment is that we have about 140 000 people in temporary shelters and another 150 000 needing immediate attention, though we think that about 1,8 million people overall might have been affected by the storm.
In a media briefing on Friday morning, Minister Celso Correia, the Mozambican Minister of Lands and Environment, who is overseeing the co-ordination of the humanitarian efforts in the port city, said the operation has since moved from the first phase of search-and-rescue to ensuring that normalcy returns.
Though the Minister said port operations and the highway to Machipanda were opened in the first week of the cyclone receding, there are fears that the highway might give in as access to some of its sections has been limited to the use of one lane.
“Within a week of the cyclone, we opened the port and the highway to Southern Africa, allowing the free movement of goods and people.
“There was minimal damage to the port’s handling facilities and we have opened detours in some sections of the highway to Machipanda,” the Minister said.
But some haulage drivers have fears that if rains were to return anytime soon, the single-lane sections might give in, rendering the port inaccessible once again.
Said one haulage driver: “We are just praying that we don’t receive any rainfall going forward, because as it is, there are sections of the road that will give in should rains fall. So we are praying that no more rains should come to Mozambique until this road is completely reconstructed.”
Minister Correia said the cyclone, which left over 300 000 people displaced, had also destroyed over 500 000 hectares of agricultural harvests.
“We are now in the second phase of our operation, which is to provide assistance in health, food water, shelter and sanitation as we restore livelihoods. There are plans to distribute seed so that our agriculture recovers.”
The Minister’s daily updates come in the wake of the reconstruction efforts that are being ramped up to restore normalcy to Beira, one of the busiest regional ports.
The reconstruction has begun as the sub-region comes to terms with the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai, which made its landfall here on the evening of March 14.
Last Sunday, and a week after the devastating cyclone, the Beira-Machipanda highway — the gateway into Zimbabwe, Zambia, the DRC and Malawi — was re-opened, paving the way for regional trade.
The highway had been cut off in the aftermath of the cyclone, whose rains started on March 14, and ran for almost a week, submerging most of Beira.
The heavily affected section of the highway, around Nhamatanda, has had detours opened up, especially in sections where the road completely gave in to the cyclone.
Just before Nhamatanda, a whole bridge was washed away, and a low-lying access detour has since been opened up.
In the sections that have suffered “minimal” damage, only one lane is being used, with traffic being controlled at the Nhamatanda tollgate.
Tellingly, Machipanda (Mozambique side) and Forbes (Zimbabwe side) — usually a hive of activity at any given time of the day – were relatively quiet by Thursday.
On the Machipanda side, less than 10 haulage trucks were waiting to enter Zimbabwe, a far cry from the usual two-kilometre queues that characterise that side at any given time.
Whilst the handling facilities at Beira port did not suffer much damage, the reduced traffic along the highway was due to the affected highway, and in the aftermath of the opening of the road, uncertainty over safety.
Cyclone Idai, the most devastating cyclone to hit the sub-region, affecting Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, left a trail of destruction that will take years to reconstruct.
But it is its effect on regional trade that will be felt even by those who did not come face-to-face with the cyclone.
For instance, Beira, being the gateway into much of Southern Africa, provides the trade link for land-locked countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and the DRC.
The majority of Zimbabwe’s fuel comes through Beira, and though the fuel pipe that runs from the port city to Feruka in Mutare and ultimately the Msasa and Mabvuku depots was not affected, it is the pumping station that was submerged in water, which has since been restored to operating capacity.
Isaac Pedro, a resident of Beira, said though the majority of the city’s residents had been made aware that a cyclone was on its way, no-one was ever prepared for what happened.
“The cyclone started with strong winds around 7pm on Thursday March 14, and these were to continue for the next three hours. Then between 10pm and 2am is when the cyclone inflicted most of the damage.
“I remember reading during history lessons about Hiroshima, I think that is what happened that time. There was a loud bang and from then on the rains, thunder, lightning and the winds started to hit us. It was a question of wait-and-see as we couldn’t do anything.
“The winds then combined with heavy rains and a lot of thunder. This happened on Friday again. From Saturday it was just heavy rain, I think for about a week or so. There was a time when the whole of this city was covered in water, it was just water everywhere.”
For the following week, Beira was cut off from the rest of the world, without any form of communication, no potable water and no electricity.
At one point with 80 percent of power gone, as of yesterday some sections of the city were without power, though Minister Caorreia said local authorities are working around the clock to provide power within the coming week.
With the aid of non-governmental organisations, the Mozambican government has managed to provide shelter, food and water to some of the affected communities.
Considered the worst tropical cyclone to hit Southern Africa, and possibly the southern hemisphere, Cyclone Idai left a trail of destruction that has left over 700 dead, though the number could run to over a thousand as several people are still missing.