TICA, Mozambique — Hundreds of villagers labored under a blazing sun on Thursday to salvage what they could from cornfields that just days earlier were submerged by storm-driven floodwaters.
With the waters from Cyclone Idai starting to recede, it was time to take stock, and in Tica, a central Mozambique village where many of the residents are subsistence farmers, the news was not good. Homes, clothes and crops — all vanished.
“Everything we have is gone,” said Armindo Fernando Lazaro, 52, a father of eight who was taking shelter at the Muda Mufo Complete School.
For aid agencies, the water’s retreat allowed better access to scores of communities that had been cut off by the cyclone, which hit last Thursday, and by the floods that followed.
Agencies were shifting their focus away from search-and-rescue operations to providing food and supplies, said Caroline Haga, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ relief team in central Mozambique.
“Floods are receding quite quickly,” Ms. Haga said. “If things continue like this, we might no longer be in a situation where people are in danger.” She cautioned, however, that the weather could change.
The cyclone struck Mozambique before continuing on to Zimbabwe and Malawi, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
At a news conference Thursday, Celso Correia, Mozambique’s land and environment minister, said the country’s death toll had risen to more than 200. In Zimbabwe, 139 were reportedly killed and another 56 in Malawi.
But as recovery workers reach new areas, many believe the numbers will grow. “It’s going to rise is the short answer,” said Russell Geekie Jr., a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
With the immediate danger from the storm abated, the concern now is long-term disruption of the food supply and waterborne disease. “It’s inevitable,” Mr. Geekie said.
The authorities were also monitoring a dam in Marowanyati, Zimbabwe, that was straining to contain a night of heavy rainfall.
An estimated 1.5 million people were in the path of the storm. Many were already the poorest of the poor when the waters began rising. If it seemed impossible to have less, for some, the storm may prove that wrong.
Mr. Lazaro, who was sheltering at the school, recalled that early in the morning after the cyclone, a neighbor frantically knocked on his door, warning him of approaching floods. His family ran out of their home, some climbing a mango tree, the rest a cashew tree.
“We took only the clothes we’re now wearing,” Mr. Lazaro said.
It was not until the following morning that they could descend from their perches, he said.
In a section of Tica called Kennedy, a path led from the main dirt road into the village, a serpentine route that, on Thursday, was still knee-deep in water for long stretches.
Under the beating sun, the air was thick with the smell of rotting trees and plants in the water. Tsetse flies tore into bare human flesh, and downed mango and palm trees obstructed the narrow path.
Many roofs, usually corrugated zinc, had been blown entirely off homes. Others stood vertical, as if the cyclone had peeled open a can.
Many villagers were working in machambas — farm fields handed down from the nation’s former colonial power, Portugal.
Standing knee-deep in water, Rebecca Janeiro, 32, and her son, Jaime Luis, 16, worked land dotted with yellowing cornstalks bent from the force of the surging water.
“It’s all rotten,” she said, holding a large pan filled with discolored corn that she hoped to mill after it dried.
Working in the machamba is the only way Ms. Janeiro knew how to make a living.
It has put food on the table for her seven children, and if there is any surplus, she sells it at the market, using the money to pay her children’s school fees.
But now, most of the crops she planted in December — four months’ work — had vanished.
“I’m worried for the rest of the year,” she said. “I’m not sure how I’ll feed my children.”
For people with few possessions and little ability to replace them, the loss of a cooking pot, a chair or even a pair of pants was a big blow.
So Jose Joao, 19, wading through a particularly deep stretch of the flooded patch, held tight to a small solar panel hooked to a cellphone battery. In Kennedy, which has never had electricity or running water, a lucky few have solar panels to recharge lights, cellphones or radios.
The morning after the cyclone, his father told him floods were coming, but Mr. Joao did not take the warning seriously.
Then he saw the water surging.
Mr. Joao and two friends climbed a mango tree — with, of course, his solar panel. “I thought I’d die if I fell from the tree,” he said.
They were rescued the next day by a villager with a canoe.
A couple of miles down the inundated path, two women dried corn on the ground next to a one-room church, whose roof had caved in at a sharp angle, and talked about the floodwaters.
“This high,” said one of the women, Maria Juliai, 27, holding her hand against the wall of the broken church. It was about six feet above the ground.
They, too, had sought refuge in a mango tree.
“We were up the tree Saturday and Sunday,” Ms. Juliai said. “And then four men from the village came to rescue us.”
One of those men, Jambo Domindos, 59, said that he and his friends, all strong swimmers, saved more than a dozen people, including 3-month-old twin girls, from trees.
“When we found them, most of them were crying,” he said.
At the Muda Mufo school, mothers and young children were taking shelter in classrooms or playing in the yard’s soft mud. Most of the men were back home, busy farming. Their families would join them when the water receded more.
Mr. Lazaro said he was eager to leave the shelter.
“I’ll see what the weather is like,” he said, “and then I’ll do machamba again.”
Read more here: NYT > Worldhappy wheels
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