Two weeks ago, when Tropical Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, 20-year-old Amela had just given birth to her third child.
Donate to the Cyclone Idai appeal The cyclone hit her home town of Buzi in Sofala province particularly hard, with thousands seriously affected.
Amela was at home with her husband, sister in law and her 2 eldest children, aged 6 and 4, when the cyclone struck.
Like 91,000 others in Mozambique, Amela’s house was torn down and flooded. She and her family were forced to flee. In the confusion, the adults ran in different directions – Amela ran to the nearest tree with her newborn, losing sight of her husband and other children.
“All I could think about was saving myself and my baby,” she says. “I climbed on top of a tree.”
Rescue from the flooding
Speaking from a camp set up by Plan International alongside the local government and community for some of the 128,000 people displaced by the cyclone in Mozambique, Amela recalls with tears in her eyes: “I spent 4 days on top of the tree before I saw a boat coming. I was so tired but so happy that help was finally coming.”
Amela made it to safety with more than 800 others – including numerous unaccompanied children and expectant mothers – after being rescued by one of several motor boats crewed by Plan International staff.
Manito Mavilingue, Sponsorship Field Officer at Plan International Mozambique, is one of several staff members from the organisation crewing boats rescuing people like Amala.
I was so tired but so happy that help was finally coming.
“The people stranded on the tops of their homes were truly desperate and feeling despair – many of them were unaccompanied children and there were also some expectant mothers,” says Mr Mavilingue.
“Some of them had seen their family members falling from trees and buildings and swept away by the flood waters and it was clear once they’d reached safety that many were left traumatised.”
Thankfully, Amela’s eldest children both survived the cyclone. Amela learned that they are being cared for by her sister in law, who escaped to a relative’s house on the other side of town.
Her husband was not so lucky. Just before speaking to Plan International, Amela received the news that he had drowned in the floods.
Responding the children’s needs
Plan International is responding to the widespread destruction caused by tropical cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. So far around 700 people have been killed and nearly 3 million affected across the 3 countries as of 26 March.
As the first organisation to have carried out search and rescue in Buzi, Plan International’s biggest concern now is to ensure that anyone who is displaced, particularly girls and young women, has access to food, shelter, clothing and blankets to keep them warm in windy conditions during the nights.
Additionally, Plan International’s research shows that adolescent girls and young women like Amela living in overcrowded camps and shelters with communal bathroom facilities are often at great risk of abuse when disasters like cyclone Idai strike.
Plan International is helping prevent such violence by raising awareness among communities of the risks to girls and young women and delivering training to ensure any incidents are quickly reported to the authorities.
As of 27 March, Buzi is now accessible by road, so Plan International is scaling up its response there.