SURPRISED members of a Cyclone Idai-hit community in Zimbabwe paused from retrieving and burying their dead to welcome the first humanitarian aid from the outside world as it arrived nearly two weeks after the storm.
Survivors in Machongwe village rushed for aid this week, 12 days after the cyclone hit, putting aside a search that is now less about finding survivors and more about properly burying bodies.
The village’s commercial centre was entirely swept away.
The village is one of many in Zimbabwe and Mozambique cut off since Cyclone Idai made landfall on March 14, swamping huge areas of central Mozambique and sending boulders crashing down mountainsides in Zimbabwe.
As search and relief efforts continue, no one knows how many people are missing, or dead.
“This is the first time we are getting some help,” Justin Sungura said.
The 18-year-old wore a dirty replica jersey of British football club Manchester City, oversized formal trousers and worn-out cleats – the only clothing he had left.
Lucy Chidawu, a 34-year-old mother of five, held dearly to her rations while soldiers tried to restrain the shoving crowd.
People received a small packet of dried fish, beans, cooking oil, salt and sugar – quantities that many people said were better than nothing.
“It will only last a week at most. Hopefully, the food will keep coming,” Chidawu said.
Many hungry people had resorted to eating guava fruits and cooking unripe bananas, she said.
Some people desperate for the aid crossed a nearby river on a makeshift bridge of wooden poles supported by stones.
Residents marvelled at how little of normal life remained.
“We used to shop, drink and play snooker here. There were shops and houses, all swept away,” Hebert Mazungu said.
The cyclone reshaped the landscape.
Powerful waterfalls now rush down mountainsides that once had been forested with pine and eucalyptus trees.
In some places only the roofs of homes protrude from the now boulder-strewn ground.