Few hundreds still unaccounted for as waters recede
Fatima Bernardo hacked at a sodden patch of earth beneath a tree in the Mozambican village of Begaja, scraping a shallow hollow in the mud.
It was there, without funeral song or rite, that she buried her four-year-old son Zacharia.
The boy and his one-year-old sister Isabel were lost to the surging brown torrent unleashed by Cyclone Idai.
“When the water came we were asleep. When I woke up I just heard screams from outside and we saw it was like we were in the river and there was nowhere for us to go,” Bernardo said.
When the water rose swiftly around them in the darkness, Bernardo lost her grip on her children as they tried to flee. After Zacharia and Isabel were ripped from her arms by the current, she and her elderly mother climbed a mango tree that once provided shade for their home and spent four days clinging to its branches.
Now the women wander the main road through the village – still an impassable route for aid – looking for food.
The dirt track that once connected Begaja with surrounding villages is submerged. The wreckage of a bakkie swept from the road lies abandoned in a clearing, its windscreen caved in by the rushing water.
The storm, which the UN has called one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the southern hemisphere, drowned Mozambique’s lowlands.
Begaja, like many other rural settlements along the Buzi River in Sofala province, is now cut off from the outside world. We were taken there in a helicopter being used for relief efforts by humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers.
It’s a desolate scene. Mud and straw homes provided little resistance to the force of water.