Some Refuse to Flee Mozambique Flood

The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 14, 2007; 4:41 PM

COCORICO, Mozambique -- Relief workers used dugout canoes, motorboats and a U.N. helicopter to rescue villagers from rising floodwaters Wednesday, but others refused to go because it would mean leaving their crops and livestock.

Torrential rains have deluged southern Africa since December, killing more than 100 people, including 40 in Mozambique. The floods have destroyed thousands of acres of crops, washed out roads and bridges and uprooted utility poles.

Despite memories of floods that killed 800 Mozambicans six years ago, some resisted evacuation orders, even as waters submerged fields within sight of their huts and the only visible remains of neighbors' homes were the tops of thatched roofs peeking above newly formed lakes.

"No chickens, no goats!" a U.N. official declared firmly, relaying instructions for the evacuation as the white helicopter swooped down and landed in front of the water pump on Cocorico island, where about 120 people were reported trapped by rising waters.

The island appeared deserted except for two black goats tethered to a loofah tree and a rooster scratching in the damp earth.

Then a man came crashing through the bush, trousers rolled up and legs wet to the thigh: Felizado Markush told rescuers he managed to evacuate 117 islanders in boats despite engine trouble and a shortage of fuel.

"We've been trying for two days and we finally managed to reach them this morning," said Markush, a pastor at the African Assembly of God Church from Chupanga, the nearest town.

But others were refusing to leave, not wanting to abandon their homes, their corn crops and the livestock that is their life's savings.

The U.N. official, operations chief Jaco Klopper, was exasperated. "This is the problem: people don't want to leave their goats, then the waters rise and they end up clinging to trees and we have to come and save them."

The relief workers talked about forcing those remaining to leave, but a flyover of the island turned up several canoes that could be used by stragglers.

Officials in Mozambique already have evacuated more than 80,600 people _ half of those under threat, according to Paulo Zucula, head of the national disaster relief agency. Most are subsistence farmers who grow corn and rice and own a few cattle or goats.

He said he expects the flooding to be worse than in 2001, when floods hit at the end of the rainy season. With six weeks of rain remaining, water levels are still rising _ even threatening Caia, the farming center that is headquarters for the relief effort.

But Zucula said he expects far fewer casualties this year because of an early warning system and other measures put in place after the last deadly floods. "We knew in October that we were going to have problems and started on the ground in early December," he said.

There are food shortages in places cut off by flooding, however, and officials began airlifting food to villages on Tuesday. An airlift was ordered Wednesday for Samarucha, where 5,000 displaced villagers were stranded.

Luis Doluis, a 37-year-old farmer, was among 2,300 people living rough under plastic sheeting set over wooden poles at a camp on the outskirts of Chupanga town. He said he, his wife and their seven children were saved by boat Friday from high ground near the submerged hut where they once lived.

"But there are two other villages that the boats can't reach," he said.

© 2007 The Associated Press