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Cyclone Idai: My Experience with Cyclone Idai - João Abílio Lázaro

The most terrible night I have ever had in my life was the one of the IDAI Cyclone, on 14 March 2019. I spent the whole of it awake, frightened and without sleep due to the noise of strong winds trying to invade my and other people’s houses, in Beira. These winds were making all the doors of the house shake, as well as they were making terrible noise as if there were thieves behind them, trying to break in. For more than three times I could hear the noise of something similar to electric poles falling on top of my roof’s house, yet it was my neighbour’s roof getting destroyed by bricks that were falling from the other neighbours’ two storey building. At the same time, we could not dare to open the windows and/or the doors of the house because if the winds were to get in, they would break the windows and doors in it since its speed, beyond 200 kilometres per hour, would destroy anything that would come on its way.

Around 8:00 o’clock pm, things got worse. After dinner, I felt asleep. I left my wife watching TV and went to my bedroom to sleep, but it was impossible. As soon as I got there, there was a general power cut for the whole city of Beira. It was completely dark, scary, with the wind of the cyclone blowing on its 220 km/h, and with no communication at all. A complete night chaos!!! This was a night where, due to the powers of nature, the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is short, nasty and brutish, came true. The instincts of survival were all activated. No one expected that things would get to this extent first, because there was little publicity and information about the cyclone, and second, because of the destruction that took place around 4 pm, in some areas of the city, which made everyone to believe that it was over.

Considering that I could not even manage to close my eyes for a sleep due to the noise of the wind that was blowing strongly against the glasses of the window, in the room, and for fear that the glasses on the window would break and be blown against me, I took the mattress to the sitting room, where it was safer to sleep. Still, the noise was unbearable for the whole night. It was only around 4:00 am of the following day that the wind reduced its speed and we could sleep.

When my wife woke up around 9:00 am, on 15 March, she just told me, in Portuguese: “as coisas não estão bem lá fora. Acorda para ir ver”, meaning things are not that well out there. Wake up, go to see it for yourself. I woke up and looked through the window but I did not see much. Then, I went to the veranda. That was when feelings of sadness invaded my heart. I opened the main door of the house and went downstairs where the neighbours were gathered, sharing their stories of anguish, sorrow and sadness for the loss of properties, damaged cars, broken doors and windows, and so forth. After that, before breakfast, we decided to get informed about how my little brother-in-law and nephews had survived the cyclone. We got into the car to go and see them.

However, as soon as we got to the main road, it was chaotic to drive. We had to use alternative roads because most of them were totally blocked by fallen trees and fallen electric power poles to the extent that we had to spend almost 40 minutes to get to our destination in a distance that we used to take 10 minutes driving. When we got there, the roofs of almost all poor quality constructions and houses had been totally and/or partially destroyed and other houses had been partially and/or totally destroyed as well. It was disgusting to be before a situation of complete destitution and human impotence before the power of nature and yet, there was nothing I could do to save the situation. In fact, one cannot imagine how thousands of people spent the night of the cyclone without a roof on top of their heads, considering that the cyclone was accompanied by heavy rains for the whole night.

Upon our arrival, like many other neighbours, the four had found refuge on the garage of the nearest well-built infrastructure that survived the cyclone. In fact, similar to other houses in the neighbourhood, theirs had no roof at all. That was when I decided that we should take them to stay with us until the situation was solved and stable. We carried the little belongings they had and put them in the car and asked them to get in as well. So, I drove off home, where they stayed with us for almost 2 weeks.

The following week after the cyclone, on 20 March, at Mass time, at the Rectory of the Catholic University, instead of saying the homily, the Priest, Fr. Rafael Sapato, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Pastoral and Social Work, invited everyone to share the experience s/he had about the cyclone. We heard very sad stories from workmates who lost their houses and properties to the cyclone. The most touching of all was one about a woman who, in the attempt of saving the life of her little son who had just been born, one of the house walls fell on her and on the kid, killing them both on the spot. In fact, a lot of other and similar and sad stories are told about this situation because, indeed, many people died due to the IDAI Cyclone not only in Beira but also in the whole Province of Sofala and other parts of the Country.

As of now, it is reported that more than 600 people have died, with more than 1000 displaced and millions of dollars in properties destroyed. This is why, as it stands, any help that can be provided, particularly to the most affected people is still important and will be greatly appreciated. However, there is need to seriously think about how the same help will be channelled so that it does not get to people of bad will. In this regard, Catholic Church institutions are assured to be the safest to get the help reach the really needy and affected people of the IDAI cyclone, in Mozambique.

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