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Mozambique Braces for More Flooding

December 15, 2000

XAI XAI, Mozambique (AP) _ With months of furious labor, the main road to Xai Xai that washed away in massive floods earlier this year was finally reopened.

A month later, it is already in danger again.

The rains that began several weeks ago have eaten into the red earthen dams that support much of the road as it spans the Limpopo River. Deep crevices creep within two feet of the thin layer of asphalt. Sandbags reinforcing the dirt have burst open.

Incomplete reconstruction efforts like that one in a region still saturated with floodwater have left officials and Mozambique residents fearing more damaging floods this rainy season _ though few are predicting another cataclysm.

``All the indicators are that we’re in for another bad time,″ said Mark Wilson, head of the local delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Earlier this year, a series of cyclones caused rivers to flood, flattening much of southern and central Mozambique, killing 700 people, destroying tens of thousands of homes and ravaging the farmland many here rely on for survival.

No one is predicting rainfall anywhere near that level now. Forecasts for this rainy season, which runs through March, call for average or slightly above average rainfall.

But that might be enough to send the rivers over their banks again.

Despite the seven-month dry season, the ground remains saturated with water. Several large lakes created by the flood _ including one 12 miles long _ have yet to dry up.

``We shouldn’t have any rain for the next two years in order to get rid of all this water,″ said Silvano Langa, director of the National Disasters Management Institute.

But the rains have already started.

Last month, nine people were killed in renewed flooding after a fierce storm. And intense rainfall across the border in South Africa has swollen rivers there.

``Most of the (South African) dams are almost at full capacity at the moment,″ Langa said. ``Any reasonable rainfall will mean that they will be releasing the water.″

Releasing it into Mozambique.

After the floods in February and March, the government and international aid agencies scrambled to rebuild before the new rainy season started in November. But many of those projects could take as long as two years to complete, leaving the region especially vulnerable.

``The infrastructure has been patched back together, it’s had emergency work, but there has not been sufficient time to finish work on roads, bridges, dams and dikes,″ said Cynthia Rozell, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Mozambique.

The series of dikes that protected the heavily damaged city of Xai Xai, about 125 miles north of Maputo, and the canals and dam that protect Chokwe, 80 miles upstream from Xai Xai, were swept away or broken in the floods. They have been replaced temporarily by earthworks likely to be worn down in any further flooding.

In Xai Xai, people who climbed trees to escape the floods have tried to return to normal life. The town square has been spruced up with newly planted flowers and newly painted green benches. A bride and groom wander through with a wedding photographer.

But the scars remain as fresh here as the water stains that reach up to 15 feet on some buildings.

Manuel Nvunga’s cane house was swept away in the floods. Nvunga, 55, and his mother tried to flee through deep water, but she did not know how to swim and drowned.

Precida Makhave, 37, fled her house with her husband and four children. When they returned in June, it was gone, along with their pots, blankets and bed.

``I lost everything that was in the house, so now I have nothing,″ she said.

Nvunga, who has rebuilt his house on higher ground, and Makhave, who is still building hers, both fear the new rains.

They are luckier than some.

Christina Chivure, like about 10,000 other displaced Mozambicans, still lives in a tent she was given as emergency shelter after her entire town of Macaratane was destroyed and relocated two miles away. One of her five children died of malaria after the flooding, and she worries that spending the rainy season in a tent will leave her other children vulnerable.

``I’m very scared, because the tents are not in good condition,″ she said.

Disaster officials and aid workers have scrambled to prepare for possible flooding.

They have sent boats to vulnerable areas and distributed thousands of kits with plastic sheeting for temporary shelter. They are establishing a radio network to maintain contact with villages that lose roads and telephones.

``We wouldn’t want to be alarmist, but it’s going to be a difficult six months,″ Wilson said.

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