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Disaster survivors’ march to recovery

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IN RUINS—What used to be Rashford’s house

By Solister Mogha

Elias Rashford from Kadewere Village, Traditional Authority Mwambo in Zomba nearly lost his life to devastating effects of Tropical Storm Gombe.

The incident happened on the night of March 13, 2022, when the walls of his house crumbled onto him after being weakened by incessant rains.

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Rashford recounts vividly about what started like light rains on that particular day but ended up destroying his house built with sun-baked bricks.

“On this day, I was resting in my small- grass-thatched house enjoying the cool weather accompanied by light rains. It was only around 9 o’clock in the evening when heavy rains began falling. By then, I had just taken my supper and was about to retire to bed.

“While contemplating about going to sleep, part of the wall of my house gave in, rendering me destitute. I was helpless but still remained in the house hoping the rains would stop and things would improve,” he recalls.

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The rains kept beating down through the night. The house Rashford had lived in for more than five years finally collapsed completely.

Out of desperation, Rashford, who has been single for years having separated from his wife, called out to neighbours who rescued him.

“I literally had no idea of what to do to escape from the death trap,” he says.

While Rashford was sobbing, pushing and shoving through the grass and debris of the fallen house, his sister Emily heeded his cry and rushed to check on him.

She had gone to answer the call of nature when she heard a voice similar to her brother’s calling for help.

“I still don’t understand what forced me to go out of the house at that particular time because I was weak and hesitant. When I heard the voice, I quickly rushed to his house only to find him buried and helpless. I tried calling him and he answered in a strained voice.

“I immediately gathered courage and single-handedly removed the debris and grasses and plucked him out,” Emily explains.

She says despite all what her brother is going through, having lost everything, seeing him alive is all what excites her.

Apart from losing his house, Rashford lost all his belongings including food and kitchen utensils.

“I am currently being accommodated at one of the established camps in the area but I have no food, blankets and clothes. I am, therefore, asking from well-wishers to come to my rescue,” the survivor states.

Although Rashford is recovering from the shock of the disaster, he is planning to erect another structure within the shortest time possible.

He says through his mat-making business, he is expecting to raise enough money that should assist him build a new and strong house.

“I cannot be in a camp for the rest of my life. With the little that I will make out of my business, I will rebuild my house,” the father of four says.

Rashford was not alone in this catastrophe. About 8,734 households, representing a population of 43,670, were also affected by the disaster.

Zomba District Council Relief and Rehabilitation Officer, Walusungu Mwafulirwa, says out of the total affected 3,593 were male-headed households while 5,120 were female-headed.

Mwafulirwa adds that 2,306 houses completely collapsed with some of them partially damaged.

Tropical Storm Gombe escalated the impacts of Tropical Storm Ana and we anticipate that more houses may collapse especially in disaster-prone areas of the district. Apart from houses, crops and livestock and people’s property were also damaged,” she laments.

Group Village Head (GVH) Kadewere confirms that many of his subjects were affected by both tropical storms Ana and Gombe.

GVH Kadewere says apart from houses, crops and livestock were also affected and that there was need for relief assistance.

“This is the first time that we have experienced the worst in terms of houses collapsing. Most of my subjects are in camps as they have nowhere to call home,” the local ruler adds.

Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) Public Relations Officer Chipiliro Khamula says about 15,000 households across the country were affected by Tropical Storm Gombe.

Khamula says the department dispatched relief items to all the affected families.

“Dodma worked on all the figures from districts so that we could plan properly and afterwards dispatched the required relief items.

“Suffice to say that when the Department of Meteorological Services released its report of Tropical Storm Gombe, we sent relief items to all our designated warehouses in readiness for any eventuality,” Khamula says.

This year, for the first time, Malawi experienced back-to-back weather related shocks which rendered many people including Rashford destitute.

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