Mozambique’s Floods—How Christians Cared for Victims
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN MOZAMBIQUE
EARLY last year television viewers were transfixed by pictures from Mozambique of people clinging to branches in trees as floodwaters threatened them. One woman gave birth while in a tree and was seen being lifted to safety along with her baby. Thousands, though, were stranded for days—some with snakes as companions—until the water subsided or they were rescued by helicopters.
The tragedy began with torrential rainfall in Mozambique’s capital city, Maputo. Within hours entire suburbs were flooded. In some places water rose to the roofs of houses. Roads were transformed into raging rivers. Large gullies formed, and houses and cars, as well as just about everything else, were washed away. But the worst was yet to come.
The rains continued, inundating the entire southern part of the country. Rain also fell in neighboring South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Because the Incomati, Limpopo, and Zambezi rivers flow from these countries into Mozambique on their way to the ocean, vast areas of Mozambique were devastated when these overflowed. How Christians cared for one another during this catastrophe is a faith-strengthening story.
Assessing the Early Damage
On February 9 last year, two representatives of the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Maputo left to visit the north. About nine in the morning, they passed the city of Xinavane, where the level of the Incoluane River was very high. They decided to continue on to Xai-Xai, the capital of the province of Gaza. However, they observed that near the city of Chókwè, where the worst flooding often occurs during storms, there were no signs of problems. So they decided to return to Maputo.
However, as they approached Xinavane on their return, they were stopped by a police barrier. “The floodwaters from South Africa have arrived and cut off the national road,” the police warned. “Neither buses nor trucks are able to pass.” The same section of road that they had crossed in the morning was now completely under water! Since rivers farther north were also rising, the area was isolated from the rest of the country.
The two decided to spend the night in nearby Macia. During that night the situation worsened. The entire city of Xinavane was flooded, and people there lost everything. Arrangements were made to help the Witnesses in the area get to a Kingdom Hall in Macia, where a makeshift refugee camp was set up. Witnesses immediately went to warehouses and bought such basic items as rice, beans, flour, and oil.
Concern now focused on fellow Christians in Chókwè and the nearby cities. The overseers in congregations in Chókwè met together and organized a mass evacuation. The message was spread: “Leave immediately, and go to Macia!” It was soon learned, however, that many from Xinavane had not arrived. So Witnesses were sent to check on them. It was also learned that a Christian elder had drowned inside his house. His burial was arranged, and the rest of the Witnesses, some on rooftops, were located and helped to get to Macia.
After these arrangements were made, the representatives from the branch went to Bilene, a small city on the coast, where they chartered a plane for Maputo. As far as the travelers’ eyes could see, the region was flooded. It was reported that in the province of Gaza alone, 600,000 people had been affected.
The Situation Worsens
During the next few days, the rains intensified, and the central provinces of Mozambique were also devastated. Then an enormous tropical cyclone named Eline formed. On February 20 it dumped devastating rain on the provinces of Inhambane, Sofala, and Manica. Further flooding, death, and destruction resulted.
Then, toward the end of February, the city of Chókwè and the entire surrounding region were flooded in a way that had never been seen before. Close to midnight on Saturday, February 26, floodwaters arrived like a great avalanche, washing away everything in their path. “We were awakened by a neighbor shouting through the window,” relates Luis Chitlango, a 32-year-old Witness.
Chitlango explained: “As we jumped out of bed, we could hear the loud roar of the water. As we fled, we encountered many snakes. At six o’clock, we arrived at higher ground, but later in the morning when floodwaters had risen on all sides, we had to climb into the trees. Our group included 20 people.
“The men climbed into the trees first. Then the women handed the children to them, and these were tied to tree branches. The women followed with their babies. Every now and then, we climbed down from the trees and probed the ground beneath the water for peanuts, which we knew were grown in the area.
“After three days it was decided that we all should walk to Chókwè. The water reached our chests, and we contended with strong currents. Along the way we found many people in trees and on rooftops. The next day the floodwaters had subsided enough for trucks to reach the city and take people to Macia.”
The Witness Refugee Camp
On March 4 the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses chartered a plane and flew representatives to the disaster area. A large part of the population had fled to Macia, which had been transformed into an enormous camp for refugees. Many flood victims suffered from flu, malnutrition, malaria, and other afflictions.
The scene was like a war zone. Helicopters sent by various countries filled the sky over the city and landed on improvised runways to unload provisions. When the Witness relief team arrived in Macia, they not only made arrangements for feeding victims but also set up an infirmary. First, however, they obtained the approval of local authorities, who applauded their initiative.
Every morning at the Witness camp, which accommodated nearly 700 Witnesses as well as others, a Bible text was considered at 6:30 a.m. When the food prepared by Christian sisters was ready, the names of family heads were called. Each would indicate with his fingers how many plates he needed, and the food would be delivered.
Every aspect of life in the camp was well organized. Some people were assigned to purchase food; and others, to safeguard sanitation of drinking water, to clean latrines, and so forth. The good organization did not go unnoticed by government officials, who commented: ‘It is worth it to be here. Nobody goes without food, and there is no quarreling.’ A local authority said: ‘Everyone should visit the camp of the Witnesses to see how things should work.’
One day the relief committee called Christian elders together and informed them that the branch office had made arrangements to rebuild houses and Kingdom Halls as well as to provide other basic items for flood victims. The following morning during the consideration of the day’s Bible text, announcement was made regarding these plans. The applause was prolonged.
Even though the authorities had donated two large tents, many in the camp were still sleeping in the open air. So a team from among the flood victims was organized to construct a large Kingdom Hall on the plot of land belonging to the local congregation. It was built from reeds and corrugated zinc sheets—Mozambican style—to accommodate 200 people. It was completed in just two days!
Locating Isolated Ones
In the meantime, on March 5, after the floodwaters had subsided somewhat, a relief team was formed to travel to the town of Aldeia da Barragem, located in one of the first regions to be flooded. It had a congregation of some 90 Witnesses, and nothing had been heard from them.
En route, the team passed Chihaquelane, a large refugee camp of about 100,000 people. On both sides of the road, which in places was washed away, the region was flooded as far as the eye could see. One member of the team commented: “When we arrived in Chókwè, a desolate scene met our eyes. Many houses at the entrance of the city still had water up to the rooftops. The majority of the houses were submerged in the floodwaters. It was getting dark, and we still had 15 miles [25 km] to go before we reached Aldeia da Barragem.”
During the night, the team finally reached their destination. A member of the team recalls: “We stopped and wondered what to do next.” Then people appeared, shouting: “Brothers!” and there was loud, happy laughter. When they had seen the lights of the two vehicles, the local Witnesses had immediately thought that it might be their brothers, and they told others this. The observers were very impressed, saying: ‘These people really have love. They bring food and even come to visit!’
Providing Continued Care
The brothers from Aldeia da Barragem were helped to reach the camp in Macia, where they were given food, accommodations, and medical treatment. Meanwhile, the situation in Macia was becoming critical. Food, medicine, and fuel were scarce, since they were being sent in by air. There was an urgent need to restore a land link with Maputo. This was done by March 8.
The large city of Xai-Xai had been completely flooded. Its center was under water to a depth of nine feet [3m] in some places! The Witnesses formed a relief committee to care for their brothers there. In addition, committees were organized to care for those in need in the provinces of Sofala and Manica.
Relief provisions came from Witnesses in other countries. The South Africa branch, for example, arranged for tons of clothing, blankets, and other items to be sent in. And the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Brooklyn, New York, made funds available to care for those affected by the disaster.
When the floodwaters subsided sufficiently and an accounting had been made of those who had lost their homes, the work of rebuilding houses and Kingdom Halls began. A reconstruction committee was established and was supported by dozens of volunteers, who immediately set to work. Since then, more than 270 houses as well as at least five Kingdom Halls have been rebuilt.
When the first houses constructed by Witness volunteers began to appear, people took notice. One neighbor commented: ‘You worship a God who is alive. Our pastors fail to remember their sheep who are suffering. However, you are receiving these beautiful houses.’ In such areas many have been receptive to the Kingdom message preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a number of Bible studies have been started.—Matthew 24:14; Revelation 21:3, 4.
Although many Witnesses lost all their material possessions, none lost their faith. Instead, their faith in Jehovah God and in their worldwide association of fellow believers was strengthened. They are grateful to their loving international brotherhood, which was so prompt in its response to this terrible disaster. They have experienced in a personal way Jehovah’s tender care and protection, and they will always remember the Bible expression: “Jehovah is great.”—Psalm 48:1.
[Picture on page 24, 25]
Muddy waters overwhelmed the city of Xai-Xai
[Picture on page 25]
Relief supplies were flown in
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The Witness relief team set up an infirmary
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New homes continue to be built
[Picture on page 26]
The largest refugee camp held 100,000 people