Press "Enter" to skip to content

Cyclone Idai in Mozambique in the Context of Irma and Maria in the Caribbean

Last Thursday, a cyclone at the edge of South East Africa wandered back to the Indian Ocean and turned into a monster. It went from a minor tropical depression with winds of about 50 mph and grew into a cyclone reaching the wind speed of a category 2 hurricane. From there, it turned back to the African continent, centered on the port town of Beira, Mozambique hitting it on Thursday

Big deal. You may scoff at the winds, that only reached 120 mph, after having lived through the double punch of Irma and Maria nearly two years ago.

But Mozambique never gets a storms that could pack the punch of a hurricane. It has no preparedness. No FEMA. No national wealth on the order of even Italy, let alone the United States.

The cyclone pounded the mainland on Thursday evening. Areas with a population of about 2.6 million people received winds of 120 mph, as it relentlessly ripped corrugated roofing off buildings and decapitating people as the sheets spun wildly in the winds. Waves as high a 21-feet were reported at Beira, overwhelming any puny coastal protections.

It was reported that 18 inches of rain fell during the storm that night throughout Mozambique and Zimbabwe. And that’s following a week of heavy rain in a region which already had seen heavy flooding that caused the death of 120 people.

Rainfall Continues One Week Later

It’s still raining now. Flood levels are still rising, one week after the storm hit.

A major dam has failed. Rivers have swollen to three times normal size. Two other 50-year old dams are straining. Entire villages have been washed away. Uncountable bodies can be seen floating down the raging rivers.

Today, eight days later, the devastation cannot be comprehended.

Thousands are still stranded on rooftops and in trees; they’ve been waiting there since last week, without food, without water, and without shelter.

Source: The Telegraph

The area of flooding on the coast of Mozambique extends 100 miles by 50 miles and covers about 155 sq miles of territory. In some places today, the flood levels are still 6-feet deep. Other places are flooded above utility poles.

South Africa and India have sent some troops to help and five helicopters. There have been reports that the U.S. military may provide humanitarian relief for the people of Mozambique.

Roads throughout the country have been ripped apart and not even rescue vehicles can pass. Bridges are gone. Roadbeds washed away. Communication infrastructure demolished. And like many places after a catastrophic storm, there is no electricity and limited access to homes and shelters.

Caribbean islands also have something else to help them weather storms or shortages in resources — cisterns with fresh water. Unlike the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico suffered with water shortages since cisterns were not built into private residences. Virgin Islanders on the other hand have weathered storms with cisterns for decades.

Idai’s effects as a hurricane can be compared to what Japan’s coast endured in 2011 after being hit by a tsunami. Pictures coming in from Mozambique look like Tohoku, Japan after the 2011 tsunami killed 18,000 people. The port of Beira is now an island, partially submerged but cut off from the mainland Africa.

Death tolls reported so far do not even capture the extent due to lack of communications and rescue infrastructure. BBC is reporting that 400,000 in Mozambique have lost their homes and hundreds are believed to have perished.

The Guardian states:

“Cyclone Idai has swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe over the past few days, destroying almost everything in its path, causing devastating floods, killing and injuring thousands of people and ruining crops. More than 2.6 million people could be affected across the three countries, and the port city of Beira, which was hit on Friday and is home to 500,000 people, is now an “island in the ocean”, almost completely cut off.”

What does this have to do with the Virgin Islands?

The U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean nations bore the brunt of Irma and Maria and know what inadequate rescue efforts are like. Virgin Islanders and Puerto Ricans can lead the call for rapid U.S. Government response in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the surrounding area.

Climate change has led to both higher than normal sea levels and increased events like unusual, once-in-a-millenium storms. All five U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific were affected by catastrophic storms since 2017. The Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Hawaii are ground zero for being victims of disasters similar to Cyclone Idai.

U.S. territories, unlike Mozambique or islands in the Indian Ocean who are being submerged by rising sea levels, have a voice and a presence in Congress. It’s time to use that voice and call for change.

Issues like reducing the need for individual automobiles and access to more reliable public transportation on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John could also have a huge impact on storm response in the future. With fewer cars on the road and public transit that manages to weather a storm, residents can focus less on clogged streets while gathering necessary supplies for their family and friends.

Mainstream media in the U.S. should report on Cyclone Idai and the mounting humanitarian crisis in South East Africa.

Submitted March 20, 2019: by David Anderson who lives in Oakland, CA and is the founder of DarkFire Photography. David is fluent in Japanese, speaks Swahili, and also does photography for State of the Territory News for special projects.


International Red Cross estimates it needs about $10 million to help the 75,000 people worst impacted by the crisis. “Our priorities are to provide people with shelter and to ensure they have clean water and basic sanitation,” a Red Cross spokesperson said.

You can support the International Red Cross by donating online at here.

Save the Children will be distributing emergency items such as buckets, tarpaulins, jerry cans, and multi-purpose tents. support Save the Children’s work in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe by donating. You can support Save the Children here.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund is also working to support releif efforts in the region, you can donate here.

Featured image taken by NASA.