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We See this Place as Grave - Freddy Survivors

Devastated: The Chilobwe survivors; Pastor Chigamba (standing in white top), Ben (sitting in red shirt) Devastated: The Chilobwe survivors; Pastor Chigamba (standing in white top), Ben (sitting in red shirt) - pic by Happy Njalam'mano

It is unbelievable for many people how Cyclone Freddy induced mudslide moved huge rocks from Soche hill down to the residential areas of Chilobwe in Blantyre.

The cyclone has left a huge trail which is clearly visible at a distance from the hilltop down to the dwelling areas, creating a stream on the way which is loaded with big rocks.

The mudslide carried with it lives of many people who resided where it passed through.

“There were over 12 houses here. That is just an estimation. You can imagine how many people lived here. Most of them are dead,” says Pastor David Chigamba of Word of Faith Temple.

Pastor Chigamba escaped the devastating calamity by a whisker.

The mudslides that demolished the houses in the area of Chilobwe village passed by his house. They just left mud marks on the walls of his house.

“I only thank God that I was spared. May be God allowed me to live so that I tell the story of what happened on that fateful day,” he says.

So, the pastor narrates the story.

“It was a live place. People lived their lives here. They didn’t anticipate the tragedy would occur that night. It was raining when we heard a loud noise. People cried out for help. We did not know what was happening.

“We went out and that was when we saw the mudslide descending from the hill,” he said.

He said that his wife reminded him about the weather warning from the media that they should flee to safer grounds when the cyclone hits “and we did just that.

“People’s cry for help increased and we went out for a rescue mission. We were, however, challenged by the darkness as we could not trace many people. We assisted nine people that night, men and women. Four of them died and five survived.

“We got stuck as the mud reached our shoulders high. The people couldn’t see and hear properly because they were stuck in the mud,” the pastor said.

He added: “We heard another blast like a bomb at around 3 AM. It was louder and we heard the cries for help no more. The people were buried in the mud. All these rocks you are seeing were covered by the mud.

“We waited until 6 AM. That’s when we saw the river developing where people’s houses were. We started recovering the bodies of the people who died.

“The place has become a difficult one to live. People still have the broken hearts. They see this place as a grave. They are failing to sleep. The disaster still haunts them.”

This is the place where the cyclone took the whole family of Likoma, except one member.  

“It was an eleven-member-family. Ten members died. Only a little grand-daughter survived,” he said.

Nakalet Stephano Ben is a brother to the late Mrs. Likoma. Despite losing a sister in the tragedy, Ben also lost his wife and three children to the disaster.

“My heart is still broken. I lost my beloved wife, my Form 4 first born daughter, Standard 8 daughter and another Standard 5 daughter. Only two children survived; they are 16 and 6. They survived, yes, but they were severely injured. They cannot walk. In short, they are paralyzed,” says the emotional Ben who nearly shed tears.

Ben who was a landlord with two houses is now seeking refuge from well-wishers.

“It was on 12 March, 2023 when I went for a piece work where I was stranded due to heavy rains. During the night, I received a call that things are not well and I should rush home.

“I left the same night for home but I received another call on my way that my wife had died. I then received another call that my child had died. Few minutes later, I received another call informing me not to come home but to proceed to the hospital. I arrived at the hospital at around 5 AM and found all the bodies there,” he said.

Ben added: “I have lost everything and I am just a human now. My children cannot even go to school. My biggest challenge is a place to live and care for my children who survived. I do not have anything to do.”

President Lazarus Chakwera declared Malawi a state of disaster following the cyclone which has killed over 700 people with hundreds more missing and over 650, 000 people rendered homeless in the southern region.

Commissioner for the Department of Disaster and Management Affairs (DoDMA), Charles Kalemba, says the World Bank has committed to support the country in responding to the Cyclone Freddy which has devastated in 13 districts in the southern region of Malawi.

“You remember the president had called for assistance during and after the disaster. The World Bank has seen what has happened and they are ready to support Malawi in terms of rebuilding and resilience. That is exactly what the president has been talking about that we need to move to be a country that is reliant on itself.

“Normally, World Bank provides financial resources for us to be able to recover. That is what we are working on now to see how they will assist us for recovery,” he said.

World Bank Managing Director for operations, Anna Bjerde, says the devastation is an expensive price one can pay for climate change and degradation.

“I'm heartbroken to see the aftermath of this and to hear these stories of the residents. It was very unexpected as it was at night. It took people by surprise.

“What's very important is to work on structural issues and being able to have disaster risk management practices and place early warning systems to the extent that it's possible and building resilience both in infrastructure and being able to try to prevent some of the impacts ultimately. This is the effects of climate change and environmental degradation and it's very terrible when people have to pay this high price.

“About eighty million dollars or so we have made available through a program already and we hope in the next few days another one hundred million dollars as very fast response support will be available,” said Bjerde after witnessing herself the damage that the cyclone has caused at Chilobwe on Thursday.

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