Cyclone Idai: When tears don’t even scratch the surface

By Jennifer Bose, Emergency Communications Officer, CARE

I am dead tired, but I can’t sleep. The helicopter noise is still buzzing in my ears. Hundreds of families are on my mind, waiting patiently in line for support, but remaining empty-handed once we ran out of supplies. Thoughts about tomorrow’s endless to-do list keep me awake.

The situation is bad. About two weeks ago, Cyclone Idai devastated large areas in central Mozambique. Not only did it destroy roads and homes but also killed hundreds of people. Dozens are still missing, thousands were injured.

Yesterday, I met 60-year-old Isabel. She was sitting in front of one of the tents that CARE set up for displaced families on an empty ground that used to be a football field. Like everyone else in the camp, she lost her home in the aftermath of the cyclone. But the worst part was the loss of her daughter.

“When the wind and the tides came, I took my grandchildren and ran as quickly as I could. We joined other villagers and ran to a school building where we stayed for the night. Everything was so hectic and I did not even realize that my daughter was missing. It wasn’t until the next morning when I started looking for her and went back to our house. All I found was rubble. And amidst that, I found my daughter,” she says.

What struck me the most was how she told me her story. Any mother would probably be deeply shaken by the loss of her child and burst into tears.

Not Isabel.

Mozambique was hit by a Category 4 Hurricane on March 16, 2019. After the devastating 200 km/h winds days of rain followed. Swollen rivers burst banks and damns hit over capacity. With over 400,000 people displaced in the center of the country, thousands of lives hang in the balance. The government, the UN and NGO's are working to save lives and help the recovery effort. CARE is on the ground in these operations. Photo by Josh Estey/CARE

She told her story as if she was reading a newspaper article. At first, I didn’t understand. I was wondering why she didn’t tell me how she felt. Why I couldn’t see any expression on her face. But then I began to realize that Isabel might have been too afraid to allow her grief to show. She wanted to look strong in front of her grandchildren. Shedding tears may not even scratch the surface of the depth of her sadness.

Hundreds of women like Isabel live in the camp. Most of them seem happy to have a roof over their heads again, even though it’s only a sheet of plastic. For the past two weeks many of them sought refuge in school buildings, hospitals, on top of buildings or even trees, in desperate hope to protect themselves from the floods. In some parts of the country, water levels were as high as 8 meters.

More than 140,000 people now sleep in temporary shelters across the affected areas in Mozambique. Almost everyone I have spoken to wants to return home, even though many don’t have homes to return to.

CARE is working around the clock to distribute tents, mats, blankets and hygiene packages. The floods make it difficult for aid workers to reach people in need of assistance. We have to rely on helicopters and boats, which has proved to not only be a logistical challenge but also a very costly undertaking. To continue our aid operations in this race against time, we need your help.