Moz’s SA rescuers ‘just shut up, got the job done’
The exhausted Saffers, the first rescuers to rush into rising floodwaters, prepare to leave Beira after a punishing ordeal
Light bleeds into a deserted arrivals terminal at Beira Airport, illuminating the faces of a group of battered men.
The beleaguered figures are the last remaining elements of Rescue South Africa’s response team, the first to wade into the rising flood brought by Cyclone Idai last week.
While Mozambique counts the cost of tropical storm, described as the most devastating natural disaster in recent history that left hundreds dead and more than 500,000 people displaced, the men must reckon with their own scars as they return home.
On Sunday, the official toll in Mozambique stood at 446.
Rescue SA’s Travis Trower said his men were the first rescuers to rush into rising floodwaters, and with the focus now turning to humanitarian aid, the last of the team would return home.
“We had guys swimming into raging waters with scant regard for their own safety while trying to get to people who needed us. I am proud of what we did here,” he said.
“No sooner did we arrive and we got reports that the water had risen so dramatically that people were trapped, and we were operating alone with no one to help us. We deployed that night and only stopped when we couldn’t carry on, and that is what these 10 days have been for us,” the veteran medic added.
As water levels begin to recede, the devastating effects of the flood remain, with houses, bridges and roads destroyed by the torrent.
Sofala Province, home to the Zambezi Delta and the lowlands that surround it, is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather.
The city had borne the brunt of the storm which damaged critical infrastructure including hospitals and schools.
From the air, vast expanses of land surrounding the port town – now the central node of the global relief response – remain under water.
While cargo planes carrying vital aid and supplies queue on the apron, the empty arrival terminals have become home to military forces deployed on humanitarian missions.
A generator powering the lightbulb drones in the middle distance, providing a beacon for the men who have gathered their cots around the light.
“Every one of these men put their lives on the line for people hanging onto branches. There is not more that we could ask for,” Trower said.
“It was the most challenging rescue operation of my career, and I can say without hesitation that I have never been this physically drained. I can see on their faces that they’re tired, but every single one of them just shut up and got the job done, no complaints. With the technical rescue all but complete our presence is no longer needed,” he said.
It’s not over
The cyclone unleashed new humanitarian disasters in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, with aid agencies warning of a looming danger even after the storm clouds have dissipated.
The risk now, they say, is the potential outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, in the absence of proper sanitation.
The South African National Defence Force has deployed a force of medical personnel and a contingent from the air force, who use helicopters to fly aid to far-flung villages. Their aid mission continues.