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With bare hands, Malawians dig through mud for survivors

A collapsed road caused by floods from Freddy's torrential rains in Blantyre, Malawi, on Monday
A collapsed road caused by floods from Freddy's torrential rains in Blantyre, Malawi, on Monday - Copyright AFP Aris Messinis
A collapsed road caused by floods from Freddy's torrential rains in Blantyre, Malawi, on Monday - Copyright AFP Aris Messinis

Armed with shovels or just their bare hands, residents of the southern Malawi township of Chilobwe dig through the mud, hoping to find survivors as the torrential rain unleashed by Cyclone Freddy pours on their backs.

The impoverished township has been hit hard by the powerful storm, which triggered flooding and mudslides that swept away homes and buried their inhabitants.  

At least 99 people have died in the southern African country, many of them in Chilobwe, a hillside settlement near Malawi’s second-largest city, Blantyre.

“There was a huge mudslide that dragged down several houses. It was bad,” said Donald Banda, a 16-year-old student. 

He is among around 100 locals searching for their neighbours, dead or alive.  

The mudslide struck overnight and destroyed everything in its wake, Banda said, with several houses and their occupants disappearing in the blink of an eye.

Most of the houses in the area are built with mud bricks, making them easily susceptible to damage under harsh weather.

Government rescuers were late to come, said one resident, covered in mud, as he helped with the rescue efforts.

“We have no choice but to do this all on our own,” said the man, who asked not to be identified by name. “It is frustrating because people are dying.”

– ‘People are overwhelmed’ –

On the lower part of the hill, a woman suddenly goes into an uncontrollable fit of wailing. Rescuers have retrieved the body of her young son, aged about six. 

Several women rush to console her as the men continue their work.

“So far I have ferried two dead bodies to the hospital, as well as a lady who was badly injured,” said Honest Chirwa, who works at a private clinic in Blantyre and volunteered to drive the clinic’s ambulance to Chilobwe.

“The people are overwhelmed. The situation is very difficult,” he said, saying rescuers lacked adequate equipment. 

Freddy, on track to become one of the longest-lasting cyclones on record, pummelled through southern Africa at the weekend for the second time within a few weeks, making a rare comeback for a cyclone after it first hit in late February.

Overall, almost 100 people have died and more than 11,000 people have been displaced by the storm in Malawi, according to the United Nations. 

Noel Lipipa, the Member of Parliament for the area, told AFP that the situation is a “serious disaster”.

“Imagine, one family of nine people that were sleeping in their house are gone. We have recovered five bodies but four are still missing,” he said.

About 1,000 have been evacuated to two primary schools in the area, he added. 

“For most of these people, everything is gone with the water.”

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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