Coastal towns hard at work after Cyclone Favio
Maputo, 28 February 2007 – Just 48 hours after a major cyclone almost flattened chunks of this tranquil Mozambican coastal town, the people of Vilanculos were on the move – mending roofs, fixing broken power lines, cutting up fallen trees, carting off corrugated roofing and sweeping up debris.
All over the town, roofs are being repaired, power lines are slowly being restored; people are getting their lives together.
But the damage was vast -- solid steel sheets wrapped like paper around lamp posts, the main market had collapsed into shredded pieces of poles, bricks and steel frames thrust at odd angles; about 130 000 homes were in need of repair, at the airport a parked plane was crushed under it’s hanger, fallen trees had cut through walls, 130 schools were flattened in hours by the cyclone.
The winds cast almost all of the schools’ materials into oblivion. Children, now out of school, gaze on at their wreck of their old classrooms. For now they’re unfazed, the drama of the moment has given them a new playground of mounds of rubble and split planks. But education officials are concerned that they’re losing precious schooling.
Heavily pregnant Sandra Alberto, works as an administrator in the HIV / AIDS advocacy section of one of the local schools. She lost all her paper work in the goes through the ruins of her office painted with HIV / AIDS ribbons and messages. It was in the dark early hours when she and her children had to run for cover.
“There were sheets of zinc flying around all over the place. We had to run to find refuge wherever we could, but it was impossible to be outside,“ said Sandra. “ We had to grab and hold on to the children because the winds were so strong we were scared they would be taken away.”
Roofless, homeless like thousands of others, Sandra’s salvaging what she can, but her school papers are lost forever.
Remarkably very few people were killed or injured in the area. Despite the deadly winds, life went on. The maternity section of the local hospital was ripped apart. Three babies were born in the early hours of the cyclone.
The UN, humanitarian organizations, and the government of Mozambique reacted swiftly to the disaster avoiding the worst. As soon as the cyclone died down and it was safe to move around, UNICEF set up tents as new temporary wards for the hospital, water bladders were installed at key points around the town.
Cyclone Favio hit the east coast of Mozambique just 2 weeks after flooding further north in the Zambezi valley destroyed the homes of 160 000 people triggering off an emergency response.
“It is rare for a country to be hit by two massive and simultaneous emergencies within such a short period of time,” said the Head of UNICEF in Mozambique, Leila Pakkala. “Mozambique responded quickly to the flooding but all our problems around water and sanitation, shelter, health, and education are now exacerbated by this severe cyclone.”
Regular mother and child health visits are back in place.
Critically, the Mozambican military have been deployed, guarding against water borne diseases, like diarrhea and cholera.
“The Government of Mozambique has been using the military in a very useful way in terms of disaster management, “ said Antero Pina, UNICEF water and sanitation officer, “They have set up the tents, they’ve set up the water bladders, they’ve set up the latrines. We are very happy with this collaboration,”
The coming weeks will remain precarious for the children of the area.
But spirits were lifted when Mozambique’s President flew in to witness the destruction, cheer on local efforts and get the area back on its feet again.
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