Agonising choices of who to leave behind in flood-ravaged Mozambique

24 March 2019 - 13:58 By TimesLIVE
Ceron Meadows of Rescue Care with a child rescued from the Buzi district in Beira, Mozambique.
Ceron Meadows of Rescue Care with a child rescued from the Buzi district in Beira, Mozambique.
Image: IPSS Medical Rescue

The old man with severe elephantiasis, an elderly woman barely able to walk after part of her house collapsed onto her, and children – cold, weak, scared, hungry and traumatised.

These are just some of the people who had to be left behind when a rescue helicopter, plucking people stranded by the devastating floods in Mozambique, was already filled to capacity.

"None of the others can come with us," wrote Dr Qasim Bhorat, medical team leader with the Gift of the Givers, who on Sunday shared his reflections of being part of the rescue efforts on the ground – and in the air – after returning from Beira.

Bhorat described a mercy flight aboard an SANDF Oryx helicopter to Gwaragwara where he had triaged and treated patients.

"A three-year-old with a six-week-old fracture, pre-cyclone, who still had the POP on ... needless to say the cast was filthy and soaked ... the breeding ground for infections,” he wrote in an update posted on the Gift of the Givers Facebook page.

"She already had sores, blistering and cuts. We removed the cast, dressed her wounds and strapped her leg. She and her grandmother, plus two siblings, were then evacuated to Beira with us for further management at a hospital.

"A middle-aged man with severe cellulitis of his left leg ... from injuries sustained during the cyclone. His foot is extremely tender, but we don’t have space for him on the rescue flight back as he is caring for four kids, not his, but kids he helped save during the floods! I gave him two painful antibiotic injections and will take more meds for him tomorrow, God willing," he wrote.

A baby, less than three months' old that he hurriedly examined as they were leaving before dark was found to have acute diarrhea "so severe" that the child had an excoriated bottom from all the digestive fluids. "Another mum and child added to our list for evacuation," he wrote.

"And just like that, our quota for the rescue flight back is filled. We can't take any more back to Beira. Not the old man with severe elephantiasis, neither the old lady who can hardly walk because part of her house fell on her, nor the lady with a bad chest who is too scared to leave her family behind, nor any of the hundreds of children.

"None of the others can come with us. All of them are cold, weak, scared, hungry, traumatised and also physically ill ... just not as bad as others."

For those who stayed behind, it would be another night under African sky.

Bhorat said the aftermath of the cyclone and flooding was not merely physical - with injuries and illness – but also deeply emotional.

"A very emotional experience for the many victims, none of whom had any choice in their involvement in this disaster, but also deeply emotional for those doctors and rescuers trying to assist, who have been saddled by the heavy burden of the choices they are forced to make.

"Choices that will have negative consequences for some. I pray that my choices today were the best ones I could have made, and that those we left behind will be there tomorrow to greet us, Amen."