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Floods of 2000, part 3: Mozambique on its knees

Two cyclones hit one after the other.

MBOMBELA – The 2000 floods left thousands without homes in Mozambique. Yet it gave birth to a gift Mozambicans and the wold at large will treasurer forever.

You cannot speak of the floods without picturing the miraculous birth of Rosita Mabuiango, now 17. Just after being born up a tree, Rosita and her mother,Carolina Chirindza, were lifted away by South African defence forces helicopter.

Rosita and Carolina were two of more than 252 000 Mozambicans rescued during that year’s floods. Lowvelder reported on the events in the neighbouring country extensively. Today, the paper revisits these gripping stories.

Also read: 2000 floods part 1

Also read: 2000 floods part 2

Lowvelders also played their part in the rescue mission that changed the lives of many desperate Mozambicans. This week, we look back and remember the horrific events and heroes that changed our world 17 years ago.

Heavy rainfall had affected South Africa and, more particularly, the Lowveld, by the end of 1999. In February 2000, heavy rainfall had caused the Komati, Mbuluzi and Limpopo rivers to break their banks. On February 22, Cyclone Eline hit the Mozambican coast. This was followed by Cyclone Gloria in the beginning of March.

Those who managed to flee from floodwaters ended up stranded on rooftops, in trees and gathered on dry land. Thousands of refugees had nowhere to go. On March 10, Lowvelder reported that 473 000 people needed aircraft and boat transportation, as well as food.

In Maputo, more than 1,8 million people had been affected. According to a Lowvelder report, dated March 10 that year, 2000 people were starving in Xai Xai. Four refugee camps were set up in Chibuto, Chonguene, Chicumoane and Zonguene. Food and medical supplies were limited. Things were further complicated by outbreaks of cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, measles and diarrhoea. At least 700 deaths had been recorded in the first quarter of the year.

The international community was called on for help. Aircraft and boat assistance came from America, Britain and the Netherlands. Doctors and nurses from Turkey travelled to refugee camps to assist the sick. The British International Rescue Dogs’ (BIRD) Ms Kurste James told Lowvelder that the volunteers found themselves in terrifying situations. “We deal with the calamity of refugees and threats of snakes, malaria and sunstroke,” she said.

Rudy Visser was a White River resident at the time. He was hailed a hero after having continued with air rescue operations while suffering from malaria. “I will cross the desert with him. He is an unsung hero,” said his colleague, Mike van Wyk, from Safety and First Aid Management.

In a report titled “SA pilots real heroes,” Lowvelder reported that exhausted pilots and crews flew eight-hour sessions at a time, taking catnaps while their aircraft were being refuelled. They would stop at nothing to save as many lives as they could.

Pilot Mark Jackson said there were many special and poignant moments during the rescue work. When flying over the Limpopo river, he and engineer Tony Merber would look down on trees filled with survivors. “Merber would hang out of the helicopter and pull them in,” he said.
He added that they were received with heroic celebrations by locals. “When we started unloading the survivors the local people began celebrating with dancing and singing as they thought these people had been lost to the floods.”

Mark and other members of the South African Air Force gathered 200 survivors who set up camp some distance away from Xai Xai. Soon, boats brought in more survivors from surrounding areas, and their camp of survivors had swelled to 1 100 people.

“We had a tented hospital, a water purification plant/well and even a small soccer field! Tented classrooms for the children along with donated books, pens, pencils and colouring-in crayons,” he said.
Mark still has contact with the other members of the rescue teams, including Mbombelans Mike Pongo and Danie Terblanche.

For Jackson, another touching moment was airlifting a heavy pregnant lady from the trees. She gave birth to two twins shortly after. She named one Mark and the other Jackson.

Various local businesses contributed towards relieving the food shortages in Mozambique. According to a supplement the paper printed titled “Mozambique update,” Score supermarket donated R10 000 in groceries. The local Rotary Clubs collected money to support flood survivors and Sanlam donated funds to the Premier of Mpumalanga’s Flood and Emergency Fund. Riverside Mall and Pick and Pay donated tinned food to flood victims.

In a report titled “Mozambique’s animals wiped out” on March 17, it was reported that at least 150 000 animals had died as a result of the floods. Jonathan Owen from the World Society for Protection of Animals called it a disaster of biblical proportions.

According to Beauregard Tromp, a multimedia journalist who has covered post-flood Mozambique extensively, the country has come a long way since the 2000 floods. He said that the Mozambican government has assisted many residents in building homes located away from flood risk zones.

“Also, their emergency response agency has proven hugely effective in ensuring there is minimal loss of life,” he added.

Tromp was able to track down Rosita, who is still in school and wants to become an engineer. “The South African Defence Force announced that they would pay for Rosita’s education,” he said.

Rosita, born in a tree in 2000, recently turned 17. (Photo: Twitter.)




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