On 14 March, tropical cyclone Idai hit Africa, causing catastrophic damage in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi and resulting in the deaths of more than 800 people, a number which will sadly increase when floodwaters recede.
With hundreds missing and diseases such as cholera and malaria on the rise, Sailors’ Society sent members of its Crisis Response Network to the city of Beira to provide counselling support seafarers and their families who survived the disaster.
Rev Boet van Schalkwyk, who heads up Sailors’ Society’s Crisis Response Network in Durban, South Africa, has just returned from Mozambique and shares his experiences.
We travelled to Mozambique as guests of LBH Shipping and as a result were able to offer trauma, pastoral and welfare services to seafarers and those in need.
On approaching Beira from the air, the extent of the devastating floods could be seen for miles.
It was a horrific sight.
The airport was like a beehive of activity, with helicopters and huge cargo aircraft lining both sides of the runway.
Tons of vital food, clean water and medical supplies were stacked up, awaiting distribution to wherever it was so sorely needed.
The airport terminal itself has been transformed into a huge operational nerve centre, with charities and volunteers from around the world and the huge global response speaks for itself.
When the cyclone hit, it hit Beira hard.
More than 140,000 people are sheltering in 161 sites such as schools and community centres.
Along with the destruction of the violent winds came a deluge of rainfall.
Vast areas are underwater and many people had to be rescued from rooftops by helicopter.
Roads have been destroyed and many villages simply cannot be reached.
Tragically, there are reports that hundreds of children have been orphaned in the disaster.
After the disaster, the threat of disease has risen, with more than 500 cases of cholera in Beira alone.
While in Mozambique, we offered whatever help we could.
The first group we saw was a group of 14 LBH Shipping staff who had endured the full force of the cyclone.
Thankfully, none were injured but half of the group had their homes badly damaged and the company is supplying them with building materials to help with repairs.
They are obviously still in a state of shock and are stressed but responded well to our support.
Although Steve and I could only spend two of our three days on one-to-one contact, of the survivors we supported, the most stressed was a man we spent the best part of a day with.
He had been separated from his entire family, which caused him a great deal of mental anguish.
Thankfully his family are all alive and relatively speaking safe, but nonetheless the disaster has hugely affected him.
He feels responsible for those in his crew who lost their homes and don’t have the most basic of provisions, yet despite their ordeal, faithfully turn up to work on time every day.
We also met a tug Captain who had been on board during the disaster, recovering vessels that broke moorage during the disaster.
He stuck with it for the duration of the cyclone, using techniques gained from a mixture of training and experience. His bravery helped prevent damage to his and other vessels in the storm.
Although terrified during the experience, his mental state is improving.
A follow up one-on-one session will be needed for each of the team.
The main priority now is basic food, clean water, medical help and shelter, any further counselling will and must come later.
Slowly, individuals are recovering and beginning to try and rebuild their lives.
We helped through being a ministry of presence, by listening and providing hope beyond crisis.
We have arranged to work with the Mozambique Council of Churches and have been asked to return as soon as possible with a team of crisis responders.
This will happen as soon as funds become available, which will be used for items such as blankets and cooking utensils.
Our visit to Mozambique was far removed from my normal duties of visiting seafarers on board container ships, but my heart has been deeply touched by the plight the people of Beira find themselves in.