AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In Southeastern Africa, recovery from Cyclone Idai is still in the early stages. Well over 500 people are dead and hundreds of thousands displaced in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Survivors are now beginning to take measure of their losses.
Reporter Tendai Marima has been in some of Zimbabwe’s hardest hit areas, recording audio on her phone. She told me one town was unreachable by road, so she flew in on a rescue group’s helicopter.
And a warning – some of what she describes is graphic.
TENDAI MARIMA, BYLINE: There were just rocks everywhere – you know, just these houses that had been crushed, cars that had also been crushed, also trees that had been overturned as well.
CHANG: This is all from the rains and the mudslides.
MARIMA: Yes. Yes. Yes. Houses are filled up with mud. You know, I’ve seen people shoveling, trying to get this muck out of their houses – you know, those that are left standing.
CHANG: What do we know about how many people have actually died in this area because of the cyclone?
MARIMA: In Chimanimani, every day, a dead body is found. And you know, one of the things that struck me when I arrived there, as I got to the hospital, I could just smell the smell of decomposed flesh. The mortuary can only hold three bodies at a time in its fridge. It’s such an emergency situation where they have to get these bodies in the ground. People are being buried two in a grave.
CHANG: And I know that you’ve been talking to survivors. What kinds of stories have you been hearing from them?
MARIMA: Yes. You know, like, one man that I met, his name was Pascal Chimeru (ph).
PASCAL CHIMERU: (Foreign language spoken).
MARIMA: He told me about how he and his wife managed to survive, but two of his small children – they got trapped in the house. They died.
CHANG: How old were those…
MARIMA: Yeah. The children were quite small. One was 6, and the other one was about 9. And now, you know, both him and his wife, they need further medical attention. He’s been referred to a bigger hospital. But even if he did have the money to get there, he wouldn’t have the money to be able to be treated. And just to add to that, you know, once he’s discharged, he doesn’t know where he’s going to go because he doesn’t have a house.
CHANG: Are you hearing similar things from other people – that they don’t know…
CHANG: …If they can return?
MARIMA: Yes, definitely. There was another woman that I met, Joyce Zambezi (ph).
JOYCE ZAMBEZI: (Foreign language spoken).
MARIMA: She didn’t lose any of her family members, but she got seriously injured. Her livestock got taken by the water. Her home got taken by the water. Her fields of maize also got destroyed, you know? And we’re talking about a population that’s very dependent on agriculture. You know, that’s their source of food. So for a lot of people, they really don’t know how they’re going to pick their lives up again.
CHANG: We are coming up on two weeks since the storm hit. Do you have any idea at this point how much longer it will take for this region to recover?
MARIMA: So far, the relief efforts have just been trying to get this emergency situation under control.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOLDIERS SHOVELING)
MARIMA: I’ve seen soldiers shoveling with spades, you know, trying to get this mud out of the road. And then, you know, the longer-term steps can then be taken. In a town like Chimanimani, the water pipes were damaged during the cyclone, so it’s very, very hard to get tapped water.
CHANG: What are people drinking?
MARIMA: It’s underground spring water because, you know, as these rock falls happened, a lot of underground springs erupted. And people are using these to bath. They’re using these to wash their clothes. They are using these to fetch water so that they can cook with, you know? Well, how safe that water is nobody knows.
CHANG: What are potential hazards that could be in that water?
MARIMA: The biggest potential hazard is contamination of sewage because, you know, even as I was walking downstream, I could see there were, you know, piles of dirt, fecal matter in the water. And that’s just a breeding ground for diseases like cholera and bilharzia.
MARIMA: So you know, I think it’s a real, real health risk. And you know, I think the sooner that people can get in there, the sooner they’ll be able to contain this problem.
CHANG: Tendai Marima speaking with us from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Thank you very much for joining us.
MARIMA: Thank you.