by Lin Barrie.
We arrive at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge on Saturday and catch up with staff and the magnificent view from the deck, commenting on how low the river is for this time of year, how rainfall so far has been patchy and below average..
BUT, Cyclone Idai, sweeping in from Mozambique, and impacting Malawi and Mozambique, is predicted to affect Zimbabwe by Friday and Saturday night, and our talk was of how much the Eastern side of Zimbabwe may or may not be affected. Although our internet and mobile network is hardly functioning, we began to get disturbing reports of Beira on the coast being badly compromised..
Sunday morning finds us on the high Chilo deck overlooking the Save River, with a cup of coffee. Suddenly a roaring hissing sound reachd our ears- and before we can see anything, I know what to expect..here comes a flooding river!
There it is, a bow-wave sweeping around the curve of the gorge upstream of our deck, and all our staff tumble onto the deck to stand in awe as this force of nature engulfs sand and hippos alike in its path..the frightened hippos try to surf against the tide below us and fail..they are tumbled and scattered, desperately trying to reach the river banks and a baby separated from his mum and washed away downstream..
Within minutes the wave has swept past our deck and begins eating the expanse of sand downstream, slowly but surely covering the huge area of sand that leads to Mahenye Island, and spreading deeply into the acacia trees colonizing the sandy expanse.
The river rises steadily as we measure it against rocks on the far bank, rises and continues to rise throughout the morning, carrying huge logs, debris and silt past our amazed eyes.
We phone and radio downstream to Mahenye villagers and the national parks entry gate, trying to warn them, trying to check on possible casualties of the sudden deluge of water ..not much rain has fallen at all and this arrival of volumes of water will have caught so many people unawares, especially those fishing or tending their low lying gardens..
Reports of devastation in the Eastern districts of Zimbabwe, such as Chipinge and Chimanimani begin to trickle, then flood in.
Tragic, cataclysmic photos pop up...
The Frog and Fern in Chimanimani report that they have 400 homeless people sleeping on their floor, and power supplies dwindling
The Herald report from the military says 'We are still trying to reach the affected areas and relief teams are on the ground trying to find alternative routes to reach out to the affected communities.'
Roads are damaged while bridges are washed away after Cyclone Idai has left a trail of destruction in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts.
So many sad stories out there, how many hundreds of families are impacted..
Sunday afternoon, some Chilo staff drive upstream to view the now-raging Chivalila Falls..
When you look deep into this maelstrom, it appears to be dust, not water!
During the day Thomas, head guide ascertains that three people are trapped by the rising waters, and the boat is readied but once the rough location of the trapped people is worked out, it will soon be dark, and crazy to launch a boat into the fiercely swirling current at dusk. Villagers yell into the darkness and discover that one lady has climbed high into a huge thorn tree and can shout back. She understands that she has to wait till morning light for rescue. The others are trapped on a large island, Mwachumeni, so hopefully will get through the night until they can be boated out.
Sunday night is a horribly restless one for us all, worrying about treed and marooned people. Listening to horror stories of landslides and deaths relayed from Chimanimani..
The baby hippo has been washed ashore on our side, somewhere below my room and in the early hours of the morning I can hear its mother shouting from the far bank where she has hauled herself out. The baby answers in a small voice, tugging at my nightmarish dreams in my half awake state- will the mother brave the raging flow to get to her baby
Monday morning, and the Save is still at maximum levels - Not much rain has actually fallen here, but the Save is still very high and flooding - Thomas and the chilo team strapped their boat onto a safari vehicle and headed off, through the excited junior school children in the Mahenye schoolyard..
Success, after a challenging boat ride, at last this poor lady in her large acacia thorn tree was successfully located, 4 metres of fast flowing water swirling about her perch..her very pleased husband, who had kept vigil all night on the banks of the raging river, was part of the boat rescue...
The team delivered her to safe ground, then loaded the next two anxious husbands into their boat, and headed for the lower end of Mwachumeni Island to rescue the next two ladies.... who had taken refuge from the flooding waters on a sandbank for the night.
Monday night, I sleep better, thank goodness the lucky ladies are rescued. (I have it on good account that one or two of them are seen later in the local Mahenye bar, drinking a beer or two to celebrate their survival..!)
Tuesday-I don't hear the mother hippo calling anymore at night. The security guard at Jamande wilderness has been seeing young hippo tracks nightly, going into the woodlands to graze, so that seems like a good sign- this baby would still suckle if he was with mum but is old enough to survive on grazing..
At some stage I really hope mum will brave the waters and find her baby...
Thank goodness we don't know of any other trapped people in our own area. Although the Save river is even higher tonight, Tuesday, all now seems under control in our Mahenye area, unlike the poor Chimanimani people, who are in dire need of help. How many lives lost, how many bereaved survivors left behind..
I sadly hear that Gogo Olive, my favourite girl-team, who create incredible hand-knitted animals to provide income for women in Mutare, have had one of their team, Gladys, lose her brother-in-law, his wife and 3 of their 4 children, who died at the weekend when flooding and a landslide wiped out the growth point where they lived.
The outpouring of care and aid for the flooded eastern Districts of Zimbabwe via so many efforts, such as Econet, ZNSPCA, Executive Air Faith Ministries, and Miracle Missions Trust in Harare and Mutare, and including people such as Bob Henson with his helicopter, has been immense, as far as I can ascertain from our limited communications..
Victoria Falls rafting guides have left Victoria Falls for Chimanimani and surrounding areas to assist with the ongoing rescue efforts following the devastation caused by cyclone Idai.
My sister in law has been part of human chains in Harare, loading lorries at The Highlands Presbyterian Church with food, clothing and mattresses; all sorts, bound for the distressed areas,
So many heartwarming stories are out there, such as the lady without funds for public transport, who walked miles with a load of her kitchen pots on her head to contribute for the hungry homeless..
Now we worry about the low-lying towns downstream of the Save in Mozambique..how are they faring
Our bush house Tsavene in the south of the Save Valley Conservancy, (SVC) has had plenty of rain, and the Turgwe River has been flooding, with much distress for Karen Paolillo of the Turgwe Hippo Trust and her beloved hippo families. The Turgwe has subsided now so Karen hopes the families will be able to re-unite. The north of the SVC has been hard hit by flooding rivers and flooded camps, being almost opposite the Chipinge/Chimanimani contact zone where the cyclone had most effect on poor Zimbabweans.
Tuesday sees more gentle rain here at chilo, and the Save river stays at all volume, but so far the Runde River stays stable, not much rain upstream of their catchment area.
Wednesday dawn is beautiful .. I have listened all night to the lessening roar of the river, and now I can see that the river is indeed lower by a few feet...
Looking downstream at dawn towards Mahenye Island from the Chilo breakfast deck
The day dawns misty, ethereal ..and like the web of life, of humanity, that links us all.
Much as our day dawns brighter on the river here near the border of Mozambique in the south eastern corner of Zimbabwe, the devastation in Malawi, Beira and Chimanimani remains of looming concern and sadness to all of us..
Africa News says:
Malawi suffered massive displacements arising from floods, scores were also killed before Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
'Almost everything in Beira is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible.
And in Zimbabwe, still help flows in....
Today, (Wednesday), on social media, Shelley Cox of Africa Conservation Travel says:
'This morning The Zambezi Helicopter Company has departed from Vic Falls for Chimanimani with perishables and an aircraft, pilot and engineer for the operations taking place. Chikopokopo Helicopters have also stepped and will be assisting.
Air Zimbabwe have also offered free transportation of donations between Vic Falls and Harare and Bulawayo and Harare
Thanks go to all the tourism operators rallying to assist with the rescue efforts and delivery of aid to the areas of Chipinge and Chimanimani in the Eastern region of the country
Hundreds of organizations across Zimbabwe continue to get involved to do what they can to assist. There are so many to mention!!!! '