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People continue to search for missing relatives in the village of Kopa almost a week after Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique. Photograph: EPA

Cyclone Idai witness describes seeing hundreds of bodies by roadside

Stranded motorist tells of encountering scenes of ‘total devastation and death’

WT24 Desk

A man who walked through an area of Mozambique’s flood-hit countryside in the wake of Cyclone Idai has said he saw hundreds of bodies by the side of the road, describing scenes of “devastation and destruction”, The Guardian reports.

Graham Taylor was trying to drive home from the ravaged port city of Beira eastward to Chimoio on Saturday, two days after the cyclone made landfall. Stranded in the floods, he abandoned his car and walked more than 15 miles (25km) from the village of Lamego to Nhamatanda early on Monday morning.

In his six-hour walk, he saw up to 400 bodies, heard the constant sobbing of grieving relatives, witnessed devastated communities coming together to rescue each other and met people who refused to seek safety because they wanted to find lost family members.

“We just saw total devastation, carnage and death,” Taylor said. “It was certainly conservatively 300 to 400 bodies on the side of the tar road, the N1. And the grieving families – whoever could find bodies – were there. Communities were racing up and down, backwards and forwards in their hundreds, looking for family.

“These poor communities were left to fight it out themselves and they failed because the conditions were just too terrible.”

About 95% of the houses he passed had been “obliterated”, he added.

Taylor, a Zimbabwean who has lived in Chimoio for 15 years, is a businessman working in construction and on social and agricultural programmes that aim to teach people about the dangers of deforestation and living on floodplains, and to promote conservation agriculture. He had been in Beira to help family and employees there in the wake of the cyclone.

Taylor and two stranded Zimbabwean truck drivers counted bodies by the light of their mobile phones on their walk from Lamego.

“I could hear groaning and sobbing, people were grieving over dead bodies on the side of the road,” he said. “Most of them were lying up against the bank because the current of the river had pushed them up against the road and then the water subsided very slowly. Then of course the floods were so immense for so many days that there were bodies continually floating past.”

He said he thought the death toll was far higher than the Mozambican president’s estimate of 1,000, as he had only seen a fraction of the destruction.

“I’m guessing but well into the thousands, four, five or 6,000 [dead],” Taylor said from his home in Chimoio, which he managed to reach three days after leaving Beira. “As far as I could look and walk I came across two, three, 400 bodies floating and on the side of the road. The area is so vast. The flooded area is well over 200 sq km and it’s very heavily populated, and of course communities live near the rivers and the road network within this river system is not good.”

He saw “thousands of people in distress in trees, in roots, on high ground, on anthills”, and the only rescue effort he saw was coming from local residents helping each other.

“It was just a very humbling experience how everyone was so helpful and so united … 50, 60 people holding hands going through some torrential water to help each other in lines. Old people, almost crippled people unable to walk, elderly ladies carrying their fathers – the efforts that people were making to get out of trouble and walk the long way out.”

In Lamego, where he was trapped for a day, he saw a man with one small boat who he believed to be an American working with 10 Mozambicans to rescue what he estimated to be thousands of people, including many children.

The rescuers were “superhuman”, he said, rescuing people from “destruction of the highest order”.

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