Looking for my daughter in law in the mud

Frankish Violet

Violet Frank’s two grandchildren remember their missing daughter-in-law.

His name is feared to join more than 300 dead when Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi earlier in the week.

The young men had gone to stay with Violet a few days earlier and had escaped their mother’s fate, victim of the ruthless power of a landslide.

“He was with my son at their matrimonial home in Chilobwe. He came out of their house when he heard neighbors screaming and things falling with a loud bang outside their house,” said Violet.

“Fortunately, he survived. He was taken to hospital by well-wishers. But we don’t know where his wife is.”

When we met Violet, she was staring at what was left of her son’s house. A huge boulder stood in the center of the two bedroom house, the memories there shattered.

A boulder outside a house

Mud and boulders destroyed thousands of homes as flood waters swept through Malawi

A few meters away, rescue teams were digging a body from the rubble and mud. She wasn’t Violet’s daughter-in-law.

She asked one of the officials to help her search for her loved one, but got no response.

“When you say [the rescue teams] where to look for people, they do not go there. They’re just recovering the bodies in the places that aren’t as badly affected.

“But ours? When will they go looking for them?”

Chilobwe has been one of the areas hardest hit by the landslides that hit Malawi’s commercial hub, Blantyre.

The advice most residents received from authorities before the cyclone hit was to stay indoors, but it didn’t help much.

It’s not clear how many homes were destroyed in Chilobwe, but we saw huge piles of boulders and trees that had flattened people’s homes.

Other homes were swept away by torrents of water or buried by landslides.

Areas that had been green and teeming with small businesses were in a somber mood.

Rescue teams carrying a body

Rescue teams are finding bodies buried in mud

There was still activity, but of a different kind, with the community helping to search for the missing.

Those whose houses are still standing bring hoes and shovels to sift through the debris for bodies.

When we met Richard Galeta, 34, he was wearing a white protective suit, worn by people who have volunteered to help bury victims. Richard buried his wife and child on Wednesday.

“I was working hard for them. Now that they’re gone, I don’t know what to do,” he said.

“The last thing I said to my wife was that I’m going to give her some money this week to visit her parents. But now I have to go visit them and share the bad news.”

He now lives in a temporary camp set up at a local elementary school.

Man in a white protective suit

Richard Galeta lost his wife and child in landslides

Richard said life there wasn’t easy. He accused those running it of not caring for the victims properly, saying getting enough food was a big challenge.

“Many organizations have brought us food. But it’s just rotting in one of the classrooms which has been turned into warehouses,” he added.

Malinga Namuku, who is the camp manager for the Malawi Red Cross, said they were feeding people, but it was sometimes “difficult for the volunteers to keep track of who got fed and who didn’t”. “But we’re doing our best.”

There were many children at the shelter running around and playing with makeshift balloons created with surgical gloves. Looking at them it didn’t look like it was a disaster area. This is something some experts say will likely register in their minds later on.

Dr Charles Mwansambo, Malawi’s chief health secretary, said the mental health of survivors was a critical issue for authorities to address in the coming weeks.

The camp is home to around 5,000 people and many more were arriving in hopes of finding a dry place to stay.

Most of the people living in the camp have nowhere else to go and are in trouble, as they are unable to trace their loved ones.

This weather makes it difficult for search and rescue teams to find people. On some days the teams would stop midway through the activity because it had rained or there was too much fog.

Those who help with the search include the police service, military and international organizations. The police also use dogs to locate bodies.

As of Friday, more than 300 deaths had been confirmed in Malawi, with more in neighboring Mozambique, and more than 80,000 people had been forced from their homes.

The death toll is likely to rise in the coming weeks as the weather clears and makes it easier for rescuers to continue their grim work.

At least 200 people are still missing, including Violet’s daughter-in-law. She just hopes her body will be found so she can be given a proper burial.

Map showing the path of Cyclone Freddy

Map showing the path of Cyclone Freddy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *