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A disaster indelibly etched in memory

By Veronica Gwaze

Roman Catholic priest Father Paul Mayeresa literally gets anxious each time there is a downpour.

Father Mayeresa (second from left) handing over donations to Cyclone Idai victims in 2019.
Father Mayeresa (second from left) handing over donations to Cyclone Idai victims in 2019.

For him, the rain evokes painful memories.

Twice, he has lost his home and witnessed people die as a result of cyclones.

The Zimbabwe-born, but Mozambique-based priest survived the horrific Cyclone Idai in March 2019, which claimed more than 1 300 lives and left a trail of destruction.

But while still trying to recover from the devastating effects of Idai, Father Mayeresa was once again a victim of Cyclone Eloise in January this year.

It, unfortunately, destroyed the home that was built for him as a replacement for the one destroyed by Cyclone Idai.

Eloise also displaced thousands of people and claimed lives in South Africa and Madagascar.

“Each time a downpour occurs, I get to realise that the trauma is still strong, but it seems the Mozambicans are used to it so they somehow pretend all is well,” he said in an interview with The Sunday Mail Society.

“I still have vivid memories of people screaming while being washed away. Cyclone Idai caused massive destruction. The water level was about a metre high and so forceful.”

Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique on March 14, 2019 accompanied by heavy rains, strong winds, thunder and lightning.

On the fateful day, the priest and more than 50 other people were marooned while on a bus at Nyamatanda, which is located between Chimoio and Beira.

He recalls suddenly seeing a huge body of water that teared the tarred road as it inundated the area.

For three days, they remained stuck on the bus with neither food nor communication with the outside world.

“I was on my way home (Beira) from Tete where we had a meeting,” narrated the priest, who is currently working in Beira.

“There was a loud bang which unleashed a torrent that swept away the road, leaving the bus trapped. The road was extensively damaged.

“I was very terrified. The tollgate and bridge was violently swept away before my eyes, and all I could do was pray.”

However, the worst moment was yet to come for Father Mayeresa, who had an unusual 71st birthday “celebration” in the marooned bus on March 17.

As water levels dropped, they disembarked from the bus and tried to navigate their way back to Beira on foot.

They needed to cover at least 30 kilometres.

As they trudged on, Father Mayeresa was shocked at the sheer scale of the destruction.

But misfortune struck again.

“I got the fright of my life. One of us was brutally ‘torn’ to death by a crocodile as we attempted to cross a river. We tried to rescue him but failed. The water level was so high, going up to my shoulder,” recounts the towering priest, who is about 1,7 metres tall.

They had to temporarily put their journey on hold.

The following morning, just before resuming their mission, they again witnessed a very distressing and traumatising incident, as six young men travelling in a Toyota Fortuner were swept away before their eyes.

This prompted the priest and his crew to change route, which meant walking a further 14 kilometres to another crossing point into Beira.

He finally made it home, or at least what was supposed to be his home.

Another unpleasant surprise awaited him, as his house had been razed by the raging flood.

“After all the trouble, all I wanted was just to get home to safety but to my surprise my house was gone. The structure was completely destroyed.

“We were left without food, clothes, blankets and water. It was also difficult to get food anywhere that time due to a cholera outbreak,” he added.

With the world joining hands to give all forms of assistance to those affected by the tropical cyclone, Father Mayeresa and many others found relief in donations. The Sunday Mail