In Mozambique, a woman and two young children sit on a blanket on the floor in an evacuation centre after Cyclone Idai

Amelia and her children were rescued from floods by a Red Cross volunteer

Life changed for everyone in Beira, Mozambique, after Cyclone Idai tore through the city. The resulting floods and destruction is worse than anyone can remember.

Latest reports say that the cyclone affected 1.85 million people – the number living in Birmingham and Liverpool combined.

Thousands of people lost their homes and Red Cross volunteers were no exception.

But despite their personal tragedies, volunteers started to help immediately.

A Red Cross volunteer helps a woman walking off a small rescue boat after Cyclone Idai in Mozambique

A Red Cross volunteer helps people off a rescue boat

Amelia and her children were rescued by a local Red Cross volunteer, who was working with the government’s boat rescue team. Together, they rescued thousands of people.

Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers are now providing first aid and supplies at evacuation centres, and Amelia and her children now live in one.

“We were in a tree for five days,” Amelia said. “We had nothing – no food, no water.”

“We lost everything. The only thing which was left are clothes that we are wearing.”

“Now they are living in an evacuation centre… and the distress is huge. My children are suffering and it breaks my heart.”

Volunteers acted even before the cyclone struck

Giro Jose Custodio of the Mozambique Red Cross sits at a table covered with papers and looks into the distance after Cyclone Idai

Giro Jose Custodio of the Mozambique Red Cross

We know that at least 446 people have died and expect the final death toll to be higher.

One of the biggest risks will be from cholera and other waterborne diseases. The first cases of cholera were confirmed yesterday: when dirty flood water mixes with wells holding clean water for drinking, disease is often the outcome.

Even before the cyclone struck, Mozambique Red Cross volunteers warned people to take cover from the storm.

“We knew that cyclone Idai was approaching us,” said Giro Jose Custodio, provincial secretary of the Mozambique Red Cross branch in Beira.

“We even had time to mobilise our volunteers to warn people, but the floods surprised us badly.

“The night was horrible. There were a lot of casualties.”

“Now we are trying do our best to help the affected people.

“Volunteers are providing first aid, shelter, hygiene kits, blankets and porridge to children.”

Mozambique Red Cross volunteers have been highly trained in cholera management. They also have invaluable experience from previous outbreaks.

A shipment of water purification tablets for over 37,000 people will arrive this week and volunteers will help distribute them. Families can then use the tablets at home to make their water safe for drinking.

Best friends saving lives together

Mozambique Red Cross volunteers Manuel and Alberto sweep and carry branches from outside a hygienic toilet block after Cyclone Idai

Red Cross volunteers and best friends Manuel Mavinga (left) and Alberto Ernesto (right)

Even though best friends Manuel Mavinga and Alberto Ernesto lost their own homes in the cyclone, they started helping right away.

Manuel and Alberto now help people in Matadora evacuation centre near Beira.

“There was this really old man. I was really touched by his suffering,” Alberto said.

“He had problems with his legs and he didn’t say anything – he was just silently suffering.

“He had been several days without food and safe water. But then we gave him porridge and water. He survived.”

Tragically, the centre is full on small children who have lost their homes.

“I feel really bad for the children: I am suffering when they are suffering. I want to give more love and caring to the little people,” Alberto said.

Now, Manuel and Alberto are clearing trees and branches that came down in the cyclone to make a path to the latrines.

Helping people to use hygienic latrines so water doesn’t get contaminated is essential in preventing cholera.

“I want to help others even though I suffer,” Manuel said.

A Red Cross volunteer wearing a hygienic face mask gives a bottle of medicine to someone in an evacuation centre after Cyclone Idai in Mozambique

A Red Cross volunteer distributing medicine at Matadoro evacuation centre

Working together as a global Movement

To build on the work of these volunteers and others who have rushed to help, a British Red Cross emergency unit has arrived in Mozambique.

We will soon be able to provide clean water to 20,000 people a day and hygienic toilets to 15,000.

Airdrops of relief items are also being delivered to areas that can’t be reached by road.

A Red Cross emergency hospital is being set up that can treat urgent medical treatment as many local hospitals were damaged and destroyed

As part of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, we can call on resources like these from around the world to help after a disaster like Cyclone Idai.

But local volunteers, who know the area and its people, speak their language and are themselves caught up in the crisis, are always central to the emergency relief operation.

As Manuel said of the work of the Mozambique Red Cross volunteers, “We live like brothers and help like brothers. It’s too good to be true to work together.”

Photo credits: Benjamin Suomela/Finnish Red Cross and IFRC