Nejovo after cycloneflattened house

We first heard about cyclone Jokwe when Jack was finishing up work on the roof structure for the warehouse on Nejovo. He jokingly said it should hold unless there was very bad weather like a cyclone. The guys, Abuto Preta and Hamnido, replied that the radio had said there was a cyclone on its way from Madagascar. We thought it would be like all cyclones coming from there, mild by the time it reaches us so we weren’t quite prepared for the destruction Jokwe caused.

We would have been on the islands during the cyclone except for fate stepping in in the form of a fly in visitor who wanted to see the islands on Friday 7 March. This meant that he arrived at Nejovo at about 1:30pm, in time to have a look around before the rain started, and a bit of lunch before we left for the mainland. The reason I went with was because I didn’t want Jack coming back in the boat after dark and so we were going to spend the night in Larde and return on Saturday. To do this we had to take Abuto with us, leaving Hamnido alone.

Friday night the storms started and by Saturday morning we realised we wouldn’t be able to get back. Then the reports started coming in that the cyclone was picking up strength and it all became a bit frightening. At the Larde camp we have 3 brick buildings with zinc roofing which threatened to come off at every gust of wind. We sat the whole day with nothing to do but wait. By 6pm we had eaten and huddled into our tent inside one of the buildings, doing crossword puzzles to distract us from the terrible noise of the roof and the worries both of us were feeling but too terrified to express. Beside being scared about the roof tearing off and the camp being torn apart I was most scared for Hamnido alone on the island, feeling abandoned by us. I didn’t sleep much at all. At about 9pm we checked on the guys in the other buildings, they were all sleeping, as much as they could. The cyclone was expected to arrive over us at about 12am. At 10pm all went calm, the wind died down completely and a little bit of rain was pattering on the roof tops. It was an eerie quiet, knowing worse was to come. The eye of the storm.

Almost exactly on time, cyclone Jokwe hit us, with wind speeds of 200km/h. Our tent was being blown every which way inside the building! And all we could do was lie there terrified, keeping the torch on as a comforting night light, back to the instincts of childhood. At about 3am the cyclone had passed. But the worst was yet to come.

Early sunday morning we surveyed the damage. Our kitchen has collapsed completely and huge cashew trees were down everywhere. We drove to Naialoco, a 5km drive which took us almost an hour with trees down everywhere on the road. The village was quiet with people walking around in a state of shock amongst their flattened houses. The school was gone completely and by the time we drove back through the children were busy gathering up the scattered papers that remained around the shell.

On return to our camp our staff were waiting with tales of devestation. Most of their houses were gone and they had spent the night out in the rain. After breakfast we went with them to Larde to have a look. From the moment we stepped off the lancha we could see what looked like a war zone. Huge old coconut and cashew nut trees were lying everywhere, many of them having fallen on top of houses. We went to each staff members house, seeing their dreams of building a better life shattered. Amongst this destruction they still managed to offer us oranges and coconuts and other fallen fruit. Rooves and walls have to be rebuilt, Mikuleni’s house was flat, like the legs had fallen right out from under the pressur of the roof, looking like a bunch of straw on the ground. The chefe de poste was sitting in the road in front of the administration building, exhausted from a night of trying to shuffle frightened people into places of safety. At one most people had sheltered in the new school buildings until the roof went flying off. Zinc sheets were lifted and carried over to destroy people’s houses on another side of the village. I can’t describe the heartbreaking feeling of seeing what a mess had been made of such a beautiful village. And I can’t even begin to comprehend such people who can have evrything taken from them in one storm and still be able to joke and smile and offer hospitality!

It was a long tiring day. And through it all I was trying to reassure myself that the guys on Nejovo and Caldeira would be fine because the storm was inland. Monday morning we went to Nejovo to see. Arriving at the island was like arriving on Mars. The beach had been pushed up and the trees that were standing we stark, bare of leaves and looking singed by fire. Nobody came out to greet us. I thought my heart would stop, really. We ran up to the camp, or where it used to be, gone. The whole island had gone from green to white, sand had been blasted everywhere. No sign of Hamnido. It was only when we saw footprints in the sand and that some of our stuff had been packed and covered with mecuti that the terror of his being missing went away. He must have left with the fishermen who were on the island with him. The rest of the day we spent trying to get a tent up for shelter, putting a makeshift kitchen up in one of the new houses, making food, picking up the pieces. And all I wanted to do was leave. To see my beautiful island so transformed was devestating. I spent most of the days crying between short breathes.

Tuesday we left and heard the news that Hamnido had made it back. He came to visit us later, telling how he had managed to survive by staying in the septic tank, but looking so completely freaked out. Later in the day we left to come to Nampula, a need for feeling some security and a place to recover. Wednesday a lancha went to Caldeira to get Hassane and Riksini, who were fine but had run out of food. This weekend Jack will go back and start rebuilding and trying to get the environment on the islands to recover. We will also be helping the village of Larde to rebuild their school and of course, help with rebuilding houses. Again I have been reminded of how little our possessions mean in comparison to human life and I am most thankful everyone survived. It has also been an opportunity for me to see all the people we work with as the wonderful, kind and strong people they are.

They say the last time such a cyclone hit their area was 1978. Let’s hope it takes at least that long before it happens again.

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