Moving on after Cyclone Freddy | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Moving on after Cyclone Freddy

Record-breaking storm leaves trail of destruction in southeast Africa

A man checks the damage to his home, destroyed following heavy rains caused by Cyclone Freddy, in Blantyre southern Malawi on March 15. Associated Press/Photo by Thoko Chikondi

Moving on after Cyclone Freddy

At 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, about 90 people gathered inside a makeshift worship tent in the Soche Hill region in Malawi’s Blantyre district. The floor inside was still wet. Water dripped through holes in the worn corrugated roofing as rain continued falling outside.

Several worshippers from the community are rebuilding homes damaged by the record-breaking Cyclone Freddy. Many are staying in temporary shelters.

“We had a service of comforting people,” said Pastor Evance Nauliya of Free Faith Outreach Ministries. “It was to give a message of hope to the people so they can start moving forward.”

Nauliya said at least 10 people have died in his community. On Saturday, he received word that one person who was receiving treatment at a hospital after his house collapsed on him had died.

Cyclone Freddy’s second landfall on March 11 exacerbated its damage across southern Africa. Nearly 700 people have died across the region—mostly in southern Malawi—since Freddy’s first arrival. More than one million people across the region are displaced as rescue operations continue. Attention is now shifting to longer-term support for people who have lost their homes and crops in countries already battling cholera.

Cyclone Freddy formed off northern Australia early in February and first made landfall in Madagascar on Feb. 21. It then struck Mozambique, traveled back over Madagascar, and looped again toward mainland Mozambique and southern Malawi on March 11. More than 500 people have died in Malawi. Mozambique recorded at least 165 deaths, while Madagascar said at least 17 people died.

Cyclone Freddy is now on track to become the longest-lasting cyclone in history. The World Meteorological Organization is convening an expert panel to confirm.

Rescue workers and community members used their hands and shovels to dig through mud while searching for missing people. Destroyed roads and bridges delayed access to some communities. Responders used boats from The World Food Program and other partner agencies to rescue about 1,500 people, while the military deployed aerial rescue teams. Responders expect the toll to rise.

Last week, Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera declared two weeks of national mourning as he appealed for more support. The cyclone displaced more than 500,000 people in Malawi alone.

In Nauliya’s community, people have crowded into schools and church buildings. The floods washed away the maize crops at his church’s cooperative farming project. Nauliya has delivered food, blankets, and plastic tarps to many people, but he said it barely makes a dent.

“We’re trying on our own, but we’re not able to reach the level of needs,” he said.

On Sunday, another group of five people from different families stopped by his door, asking for help. “I helped them with maize flour,” he said. “This is what we have at this time.”

In the town of Balaka, nearly 80 miles away from Blantyre, Moses Nkhata has also seen a flurry of needs. The heavy storm has washed away several homes, while thick sand covered while thick sand covered several other buildings. Nkhata, who pastors Word of Grace Church, received a call last week after a church member’s home collapsed with six people inside. He helped to get them to a hospital. “They were severely injured,” he said.

Over the weekend, his church community handed out food and blankets to 50 displaced families. The cyclone has compounded his community’s struggle. Over the last two months, they battled an onslaught of cholera infections. “We were burying about six people a day,” Nkhata said.

Malawi and Mozambique have battled an intense cholera outbreak since last year, and aid agencies warn the cases could surge. The United Nations children’s agency on Monday said Mozambique reported more than 2,300 cases of the waterborne illness in the previous week alone. Maria Luisa Fornara, the UNICEF representative to Mozambique, said the agency is working with the Mozambican government to restore water and sanitation services to cyclone-hit areas.

Southern Africa has battled powerful cyclones during its cyclone season in recent years, with some communities hit more than once. On March 14, 2019, an intense Cyclone Idai made landfall in central Mozambique. It killed more than 1,000 people across Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, making it one of the deadliest tropical cyclones on record in the Southern Hemisphere. Less than two months later on April 25, Cyclone Kenneth struck northern Mozambique, killing at least 45 people.

On Jan. 23, 2021, Cyclone Eloise also hit central Mozambique and killed at least 21 people in Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Eswatini. One day later, Tropical Storm Ana killed at least 38 people in parts of Mozambique and Malawi. And on March 11 last year, Cyclone Gombe killed more than 50 people in Mozambique and seven in Malawi after making landfall in Mozambique’s northern Nampula province.

Samuel Tinho, the water, hygiene, and sanitation program coordinator in Mozambique with Food for the Hungry, said the group’s response goes beyond emergency support to include disaster preparedness and reduction in flood-prone areas. The Christian nonprofit helps community members build more resilient homes and encourages people to relocate to higher ground. In Sofala province, hit by the earlier cyclones Idai and Eloise, Tinho said the group has helped to resettle more than 5,000 households in different districts and provided water and hygiene services and agricultural training.

Tinho sees the additional support as a key factor in keeping people from returning to their flood-prone communities. “When they are resettled and there are no services established in those areas, most of them end up returning to their original communities,” he said.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

Sign up to receive World Tour, WORLD’s free weekly email newsletter on international news.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...