Feature: A story of zinc in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-25 17:48:48|Editor: Yamei
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MAPUTO, March 25 (Xinhua) -- If it was not for Cyclone Idai, people would not have known that zinc plates, the most common material used by Mozambicans for building their roofs, could reach so many different places in so many different shapes over one night.

After the cyclone had hit, zinc plates were twisted up, torn apart and blown away. They were in rolls, strips or fragments. They hung on the beams, lay in the rubble or hid in sludge. They were dumped by some and then picked up by others like treasure.

In the storm, the likes of which even the older generations of residents in the coastal city of Beira had never seen before, zinc dances. And when zinc plates dance, they kill.

"All those pieces moved so fast with the wind in the air that night, big or small, that people who could not get into shelters in time got cut," said a local Chinese businessman, who only gave his surname as Peng, adding that two bodies of victims killed by the flying zinc plates were found in front of his friend's factory.

That was in the night of March 14, when the devastating tropical cyclone made landfall near Beira, the capital of Sofala province in central Mozambique. Roofs were blown off, trees were uprooted and poles fell down.

For the residents in the basin of the Buzi and Pungue rivers, even if the houses did withstand the raging storm, they weren't immune from the subsequent heavy rains and floods. People climbed on top of their houses, crying for help from their roofs.

According to the latest updates from the government, the official death toll caused by Idai has reached 446. Less than one week ago, the number was 84. Authorities said it was still difficult to obtain the death toll from isolated areas.

Juta Sitoe, a victim from the flooded Buzi river basin, was among the first who got rescued and evacuated by airplane from one of those areas.

"Some of the people in Buzi lost their families. I am here by myself, my family is there. I don't know what happened to them and we are getting news that people are dying," Sitoe told Xinhua.

Sitoe is now in charge of one of the three sections in a temporary shelter set up in Samora Moises Machel High School in Beira. There are more than 1,000 homeless people in Sitoe's shelter, and meals are prepared with several big iron cauldrons in the courtyard.

Because of the intermittent heavy rains, which have been going on for days, care workers have improvised by using zinc plates as cauldron covers. When the rain starts to come, they cover the steaming cauldrons with two large zinc plates.

"Living conditions are dire. There is no water. People only have the clothes they are wearing and nothing else. Challenges are many, because we lack material for personal hygiene. Food is scarce, so is wood for preparing meals, and there are not sufficient blankets, mosquito nets," Sitoe said.

Compared with those who have lost their families or houses due to the disaster, Joao Agulha, a villager living on the National Road Number 6 in Dondo, one of the areas worst hit by Idai, considers himself lucky.

"My family had four houses. Two of them were built with blocks, and the other two were shacks which were totally destroyed by the wind," said Agulha, adding that the only challenge for him in rebuilding the shacks is the availability of roof material, since he has other material from the woods.

Agulha cannot afford an intact piece of brand-new zinc, which costs approximately 6 U.S. dollars per square meter in the local market, so he had to go out hunting for roof parts that were discarded by companies or warehouses in his neighborhood after the storm.

When Agulha returns with roof material, he will use a thick round trunk to smash the zinc plate over and over again until the warped plate becomes nice and flat. The whole process can last over one hour.

"It was nothing for me to finish the rebuilding in two or three weeks," said Agulha. In an ironic twist of fate, zinc, which has destroyed so many lives and homes in Mozambique, is now playing an important role in rebuilding them.