TOPICS > World

Background: Floods Devastate Mozambique

March 1, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: The tragic floods in Mozambique. We begin with two reports from Independent Television News. The first is by Mark Austin.

MARK AUSTIN: In flooded village after flooded village here, there are dramatic rescues and extraordinary stories. A South African military helicopter lowers a crewman into a tree, where he discovers a 22-year-old woman has given birth to a baby daughter just minutes earlier. A medic was lowered to tend to the woman and to cut the umbilical cord. And soon the mother, Sofia Pedro, and her newborn daughter are winched to safety. She’d been trapped in the tree since Sunday night. She was dropped off in the nearest town. The baby was alive and well, and both mother and daughter were taken to a hospital.

CAPT. KRISTOPH BERLYN, South African Helicopter Pilot: For the baby’s first bit of luck, it’s quite a thing to be winched out of a tree in your first hour of life.

MARK AUSTIN: The rescue effort is gathering pace here and not before time — more helicopters, more crews and more hope at last for thousands of people who have watched their world washed away. The trees of Mozambique have proved lifesavers for countless families here. And it was from those trees today that rescue teams continued to lift survivors.

The rescued stagger off the helicopters. Many are traumatized, ill or injured. This is how desperately one woman was clinging to the branches of a tree. And so many more are still marooned. We flew over one almost totally submerged village. These people have not been rescued for three days now. They have little food left and no fresh water. Their dead cattle float in the muddy and now-contaminated waters, which stretch for mile after mile around them. The problem is that the rescue helicopters are operating elsewhere.

ROBERT MOORE: The aid effort is only slowly winding up. On the tarmac of Maputo Airport, the American Air Force brought in supplies: Tents, blankets and some food and water. Mozambique is under huge pressure, for even when the waters subside, the bridges, the roads, the fragile infrastructure has been swept away in the floodwaters. This is a short-term drama before the water recedes. It is also a disaster for years to come. The country’s president knows the scale of the task ahead. Up to a million people, he said, are on the move.

ROBERT MOORE: Do you feel that the international community is coming in too late and with too little?

PRESIDENT JOAQUIM CHISSANO, Mozambique: Well, not too late, but slowly — because we had the first responses when we made the first appeal. We also did not put big figures, but, anyway, there were some responses, and now it’s increasing, but slowly.

ROBERT MOORE: The people of Mozambique now face disease and hunger, while the international response remains scarcely visible out here in the middle reaches of the Limpopo River. The death toll can only be guessed at, but the ongoing tragedy is clear.