26 February 2007

Relief updates

Again, we just want to keep you in the loop of what's happening in our large-ish corner of the world.

Below are two articles, the first sent out by Matthias, our heli pilot and the second by Operation Blessing, the main organisation we flew for last week.

Fixed wing is flying back up to Caia, Moz tomorrow with Matthias and will stay for as long as necessary, to fly in support of the helicopter as well as other organisations who are involved in the relief effort.

It will be interesting to see how things have changed since the cyclone hit last Friday.


Mercy Air team

"When we lifted off the Mercy Air Base in White River, SA, with the Helicopter two weeks ago, we had no idea how drastic our plans were going to change. What was supposed to be a “regular” dental out-reach with a Dentist couple from Switzerland, together with the Community Church of Mozambique and local health workers, turned into a full blown disaster relief operation.
Half way though the programme we got reports from Paul, another Mercy Air pilot who had done some survey flights over central Mozambique. We stopped the work in the far south, loaded up and headed north to the uncertain situation of the flood stricken Zambezi river basin. What we found was a disaster, with aid only just starting.
We may be away from home again for an extended period of time, BUT its a small price to pay for assisting people who don’t even have a home any more, and have lost loved ones in the floods.

The days are filled with flying Humedica’s medical teams directly to those in need as well as air lifting food, water purification and shelters into the affected areas of thousands of people in need.Flight operations were suspended as Cyclone Favio moved onshore last Friday, destroying houses and infrastructure. Several people lost their lives and many were injured. Another large Cyclone is already forming over the Indian Ocean.
Thank you very much for being part of our crew through support and prayers in this extremely busy time. Blessings, Matthias."

Mozambique dispatch: A white flag as waters rise. Report by David Darg.

David Darg is an aid worker with U.S. humanitarian organisation Operation Blessing International, which is working with charity partners Humedica and Mercy Air to reach communities stranded by rising waters in the Zambezi flood basin in Mozambique. So far we have located and served three communities, each one containing over 1,000 Mozambicans seeking refuge from the floods. As the water approached, the people ran to higher ground and became trapped on all sides. Consequently they have no food, adequate shelter or access to clean water.

Since identifying them we have been ferrying a constant supply of food and relief items to these communities by helicopter. With their homes destroyed, the people are living in grass huts, which are great for keeping the sun out but not the rain. Yesterday and today we have been dropping plastic sheeting as fast as we can in anticipation of Cyclone Favio. It's frightening to think that the people we are now serving could be wiped out if the cyclone brings too much rain.

We are flying Mercy Air’s Eurocopter and a Bell Jet-Ranger is on the way so as soon as the storm passes we can get right in to the hardest hit areas with two choppers. The International Red Cross and World Food Programme are supplying us with all the relief goods we can shift as we are one of only three helicopters on the ground. These "islands" can only be accessed by small choppers like ours and presently evacuation isn't an option for the people. On almost every flight we take we are discovering new pockets of people trapped by the floods. As we fly over mile after mile of swollen rivers and swamps where crops were growing just weeks ago it is chilling to think of how many more people are stranded in this vast area. Many of the inhabitants of the flood region made it to safety and are being cared for in camps by NGOs. But for thousands more this crisis is getting worse. We are targeting these emergency cases at maximum capacity and there is no doubt that we are saving many lives. Our prayer is that the lives we are saving today are not destroyed over the coming days by more rain.

We discovered the community Canga by accident during an assessment flight on Sunday. We had been searching for homes underwater and trapped individuals and never expected to find 1,200 people surrounded and desperate. Our pilot spotted a white flag flying from a tall wooden pole. We hovered to take a closer look and saw a red cross on the flag. The people were pointing frantically as if to say they needed medical attention.

When we returned in the afternoon we were told that because of lack of food three children had died the previous day. We immediately returned to deliver food provided by the World Food Programme and yesterday dropped a team of three doctors to tend to the urgent health needs of the community.

Landing on the first food drop was an amazing experience. The people were singing and cheering, knowing that someone had finally come to rescue them. Yesterday we took the head of the International Red Cross emergency response team, Alexandre Claudon de Vernisy, on an assessment to Canga. Alexander was amazed to learn that a local Red Cross representative was amongst those stranded on the "island" and it was he who had erected the flag. The representative told us: "I knew that if I put up a flag you would come to save us". It's an amazing story and we hope it will have a happy ending although we are prepared for the worst."

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