Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Senior Writer
“It happened and they all died, I have to accept that there is nothing I can do to change that. But how will I go back home? Where will l stay? What if the storms come back again?
“How will I survive after this? I am afraid.”
This is the story of a survivor of Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani, a mountainous region in the eastern part of Zimbabwe.
Fear is one thing that has gripped most of the people who survived the torrential rains that brought with them death and destruction in Chimanimani.
Fear of going back to the scene where it all happened, and fear of an uncertain future has gripped many of the survivors here.
The survivors just don’t know how they are going to rebuild their lives again.
Aid workers are desperately trying to get emergency supplies to thousands of people hit by Cyclone Idai that swept across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe on the eastern part of Southern Africa.
An estimated 2 million people have been affected, with Mozambique, which was the worst affected recording up to 417 deaths, with 1 400 feared injured while in Zimbabwe, 259 have been killed and 200 injured.
In Malawi 56 have been killed, with 577 injured.
Delivering relief to many of the survivors remains a struggle. Damaged bridges and blocked roads have delayed access to many areas.
Relief supplies for survivors are being helicoptered in, bringing hope to many who are still grieving the loss of their loved ones.
Hundreds are still missing adding to the pain of most people here in Chimanimani.
The known death toll from the disaster is more than 700 now and aid agencies say the final figures could be well over a thousand.
On March 14, Cyclone Idai hit the port city of Beira in Mozambique before moving inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, bringing devastation first with winds notching up a speed of up to 170km per hour and then with flooding that followed.
Greater focus now is on bringing food to survivors and on preventing the spread of cholera and other water-borne diseases to the survivors.
A visit to patients admitted at Chipinge District Hospital recently showed the devastating impact of Cyclone Idai.
Besides physical wounds which the survivors sustained, they also suffered emotional and spiritual wounds that will take time to heal, if at all they can heal.
There was a palpable aura of fear and defeat.
Cyclone Idai robbed them of something more than they could imagine. It stole life and left an empty hole in its place.
Mrs Lucy Chitare (66) had visited her sister from Zhombe, when the disaster struck.
She had brought her son with her and he died along with her sister and her sons too.
No tears came down her cheeks as she narrated how she survived. She had cried until there were no more tears.
But the pain in her eyes said it all.
There was an unmistakable stamp of deep pain buried deep inside her heart.
The trauma was unfathomable.
So many questions raced in her mind.
Confusion also lurked somewhere in there.
Losing five relatives at one go is scary and deeply troubling.
“We arrived from Kwekwe on Thursday evening and on Friday evening the rains started. No one realised the potential disaster, but I saw the walls becoming wet and I advised my younger sister that we should not go to bed early but rather we stay awake and assess the intensity of the rainfall,” Chitare said.
“After a while, we retired to bed only to be awakened by noises from other neighbours. Before we could react, our roof caved in and we were trapped. I cannot tell you what I saw because things happened so fast.
“I only survived because a wire hooked my right foot and I could not move. I stayed trapped for hours until help arrived.
“I survived, but my son died, the owner of the house and my sister also died, as did her children. There were eight of us in the house and the other five died, two boys were seriously injured and they are admitted at Mutare Provincial Hospital.”
She does not know if her relatives have been buried or not, but that is no longer important.
She has to pick up the pieces and go back home to Zhombe where she will have to recount her ordeal over and over to relatives, neighbours and everyone who wants to know what happened.
Never mind that they will be reopening her emotional wounds.
She can only hope that she will be able to move on.
For Pascar Chimwero (30) life will never be the same. He lost a child, his brother, sister-in-law and two of their children when the cyclone hit their home in Machongwe Village.
But the death of five of his relatives is not as hard as the prospect of going back to that place where it happened. His troubled eyes told a story of a deeper pain.
“There were nine of us in the house, only four of us managed to survive the cyclone and the other five died. We were struck by rocks that fell from the mountains and they destroyed the house and all the structures at the homestead.
“My uncle helped me out of the rubble which had trapped me and we managed to help others although l was too weak to continue. I know my wife survived, unfortunately, my brother, his wife and children and my own son did not survive,” he said.
“I was discharged today but the physical wounds I suffered are nothing compared to what I feel inside. I am hurting. I am confused. All our properties were destroyed. We have nowhere to start.”
Webster Mapembedza (36) from the same village also expressed his fear that his home was no longer safe. When we leave the hospital, we will have to go back home, but what if we go back there and the cyclone comes back and finishes us off?” he said.
Mrs Elina Mavhiza (41) said although her family had survived, their home had been swept away. She was airlifted along with her three-year-old daughter to Chipinge Hospital.
She said she was worried about her husband and four children who had remained behind.
Her immediate worry is how she will get there.
“We were brought here by helicopter and my daughter has already been discharged. When the doctor clears me as well, we will have to go back there. But we have no way of getting home. I want to be with my family but then again, I am afraid that the rocks that were moved by the cyclone will continue falling and hit us again,” she said.
She expressed hope that Government will help them rebuild their homes as soon as possible.
“I just want to go back to the way things used to be. I don’t know if that is possible, but we can only try.”
The scale of the devastation is massive and has disrupted and isolated households and communities.