Mozambique community shattered by trash deluge

30 April 2019 - 19:40 By AFP
Children play outside a house, collapsed in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth in Mozambique.
Children play outside a house, collapsed in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth in Mozambique.
Image: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The people of Chibuabuar, an informal settlement of modest wooden homes perched on a hillside between a highway and the coast of Pemba in north Mozambique, thought they had escaped the worst of Cyclone Kenneth.

But on Sunday night, the vast rubbish dump that towers over their informal neighbourhood gave way, sending mounds of trash crashing into the valley, demolishing five houses and pushing another metres downhill, still intact.

Residents told AFP that four people died and one was still missing, while the local council warned that as many as seven people may have been killed in the landslide of waste.

"It happened at 8.00 pm and two houses fell initially," said local resident Celso Carlinho, 37, whose house sits atop the valley, next to the rubbish mound, from where he had a clear view of the destruction.

With neighbours, Carlinho went down to lend a hand.

In one house, "we found a man, his wife and two daughters", all dead, he told AFP.

It took a Brazilian rescue group, initially deployed after Cyclone Idai devastated Mozambique six weeks earlier and now responding to the aftermath of Kenneth, to extract the four bodies.

Searching with a digger 

The team was led by captain Kleber Castro who confirmed to AFP that four corpses were recovered, "unfortunately".

Castro's team have been working around the clock to pull survivors from flooded areas and some of the almost 35,000 houses partially or totally destroyed by Cyclone Kenneth, according to official numbers.

In Cabo Delgado, the region around Pemba, as many as 168,000 people have been affected by the cyclone and its aftermath.

"They searched with a digger for other bodies and didn't find any," said Carlinho.

"The trash piled on top of the two houses. These two houses -- that one, and this one," he said gesturing down into the valley with the ocean visible in the background.

Young men, one in white Wellington boots, stood high up on the recently dislodged mound, sifting through the black pile.

But only broken appliances, potato chip packets, glass beer bottles, food waste and plastic shopping bags were to be found.

No money

Residents complained that the dump has been a threat and a blight on the community for years.

"In 2014 this happened and the government didn't do anything. Three people died then -- a man, a woman and a child," said local woman Rose Augusto, 29, whose home is situated precariously close to an eroding cliff edge, across the valley from the dump.

The city had planned a new landfill site 20 kilometres (12 miles) away, outside the city, but could not open it as it failed to raise money for a fence.

Augusto has become reluctantly accustomed to living in constant danger, even though disaster struck just inches from her own home this time.

"I'm not afraid," she insisted, sporting purple leggings, black flip-flops and a shawl wrapped around her head to keep her hair dry amid continued rain that has frustrated aid efforts.

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