Malawians scavenge for bodies after Cyclone Freddy
With no search dogs and armed only with shovels, rescuers in hurricane-hit Malawi went on a grim hunt for buried bodies on Thursday after Cyclone Freddy hit the South African country, killing more than 200 people.
When the rains stopped for the first time in five days, rescuers dug up the decomposing bodies buried under the mud and rubble of houses swept away by the storm.
A joint operation by the military and local residents found five bodies in the village of Manye, located about 15 km south of the commercial capital of Blantyre, after local residents said they noticed bubbles forming under the dirty rubble.
In a ruined house, half covered in mud, five soldiers and 10 members of the community dug up the soot-covered corpse of a middle-aged man with three shovels.
The team created a makeshift stretcher using two logs and a bag, and wrapped his remains in a second bag due to the lack of a body bag.
Then they went to the foot of the mountain, where an ambulance and military equipment were waiting for them.
The gloomy villagers made their way along the rocky and muddy path, whispering condolences and condolences.
“Since yesterday, we have noticed that bubbles have formed in the mud, so we suspected that there were corpses down there and decided to alert the rescue teams,” community member Alfred Mbule told AFP.
“Just this morning, our group found three bodies, and another group found two bodies. We found three bodies yesterday afternoon.”
No one from the immediate environment could identify the corpses, which were in a state of decomposition.
Magnier, on the east side of Mount Soche, stands on a landslide caused by heavy rain.
“We suspect that these bodies may have come from the mountain during a landslide and they just got trapped in these houses that are still standing,” Mbule said.
Freddie returned to the African coast over the weekend for the second time in less than three weeks, leaving tears and destruction in his wake.
After traveling 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles), the cyclone crossed the Indian Ocean before hitting Africa in late February.
It then returned to refuel over the ocean and changed course to crash into the continent a second time.
Meteorologists say the cyclone is exceptional in its duration and has characteristics consistent with climate change warnings.
Before dissipating on Wednesday, Freddie set the unofficial record for the world’s longest-lasting tropical storm, a benchmark set in 1994 for a 31-day storm named John.
Officials put the total death toll at 225 so far, but with such discoveries made in Magne, the number will rise.
“We believe there are hundreds more bodies under the ground,” Mbule said.
At the foot of the mountain, an excavator was digging through the dirt under the supervision of many villagers.
“The overpowering stench in the air is a clear sign that corpses are rotting underneath,” said elderly resident Rose Phiri as she watched the car dig through the rubble.
Amid the darkness and despair in Manya, there was one story of hope.
Patrick Nyolomole, a member of the rescue team, told AFP news agency that a 13-year-old girl, identified only as Promis, was rescued after being trapped in a mud-filled house since Sunday.
“It’s a miracle she survived. She got stuck under the open doors of a fallen refrigerator after it was hit by the collapsed walls of her parents’ house,” Nyolomole said.
“Back then, the house was filled with mud, but the open refrigerator doors gave her enough room to breathe.
“So yesterday she somehow regained consciousness and started calling for help. Then we went to save her. She was weak and confused, but alive.
According to him, Promis was taken to the hospital and later reunited with her parents at an evacuation center nearby.