Maputo — A massive flood surge down the Limpopo River hit the town of Chokwe, in the southern Mozambican province of Gaza, on Wednesday morning.
The waters of the Limpopo were rising sharply as from 20.00 on Tuesday evening, but according to the mayor of Chokwe, Jorge Macuacua, cited by the independent television station STV, the main flood wave hit Chokwe at about 11.00 on Wednesday morning. By midday the entire town was swamped. Some of the smaller houses were completely submerged.
In some Chokwe streets, the water was about two metres deep. All the roads were impassable, and movement through the town was only possible in boats operated by the country’s relief agency, the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC).
The whole town has shut down, with all banks and shops closed. Electricity supplies have been cut.
These are certainly the worse floods Chokwe has faced since the huge flood on the Limpopo in 2000. The authorities have tried to organise evacuation.
The INGC has set up a temporary accommodation centre at the village of Xihaquelane, 40 kilometres from Chokwe town, but this centre can only accommodate around 600 people in 50 tents. The number of people at risk in Chokwe town and district is put at 55,000.
So many people have preferred to move 60 kilometres to Macia, capital of the neighbouring district of Bilene. A long queue of vehicles could be seen on the road from Chokwe to Macia, carrying people to safety. The same road became a corridor for herds of cattle, goats and sheep, as farmers tried to move their livestock out of the path of the flood.
A Chokwe magistrate, Fernando Macamo, contacted by the independent newsheet “Mediafax” described the situation as one of “extreme emergency”,
“My residence has been engulfed by the waters, all my property has been submerged, and to escape from this situation I have taken refuge on the terrace of the Limpopo hotel”, said Macamo. The hotel was much in demand from Chokwe residents who had ignored recommendations to leave the town.
Macamo and Macuacua both said that many other people have climbed trees or are stranded on rooftops.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in Maputo, the INGC general director, Joao Ribeiro, regretted that, although most people in high risk zones had left their homes, many others had stubbornly ignored recommendations to leave flood prone areas in the river basins of southern and central Mozambique. The INGC was therefore forced to resort to coercive evacuations in order to save lives, he said.
“We have begun to remove people affected by force, and now we’re stepping this up, because there’s still resistance and the danger is real”, he stressed,
Over the last few days, Ribeiro said, the INGC has increased its communications with endangered communities, including the use of megaphones urging people to leave their homes. “It’s not for lack of communication that people have not left”, he added. “We have informed people to abandon areas at risk, and most of them have now done so”.
The flood surge that engulfed Chokwe is moving downstream, and by Friday it will strike the Gaza provincial capital, Xai-Xai, near the mouth of the Limpopo.
The National Water Board (DNA) has urged everyone living on the lower Limpopo to evacuate now.
“The situation is critical and so people should evacuate”, declared Rute Nhamucho, head of the DNA Water Resource Department. “Xai-Xai is on maximum alert, and the city could be evacuated at any moment”.
The Maputo daily “Noticias” reports that people and institutions (both public and private) are already leaving Xai-Xai, fearing a repeat of the catastrophic floods of 2000.