"Can our team get to them?": The race to save lives after Cyclone Idai (Part 2)

In Zimbabwe Cyclone Idai has caused devastating flooding and deadly landslides, leaving parts of the community cut off from help. As her team races to save lives, Dr Marthe Friedan shares part two of her diary…

Read part 1 of Marthe’s diary here.


Day 4 (Tuesday 19 March):

The Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) emergency coordinator arrives from Harare, and meets us at "Skyline". Skyline is a point overlooking Chimanimani where we have erected tents as part of a stabilisation centre for survivors of the cyclone.

More and more patients with broken bones or deep lacerations are evacuated by helicopter

A team of young, highly specialised Zimbabwean volunteer doctors have seemingly popped up out of nowhere and taken possession of our tents. They are from an energetic network of churches, hospitals and the University of Zimbabwe. Some have already been flown into the disaster zone by helicopter.

Tinokugamuchirai mose, we cry – “We welcome you!”

As an increasing number of emergency aid organisations arrive, collaboration between us happens in ad hoc but synergistic ways. A coordination mechanism is set up with the health ministry and other organisations on the scene, with much of the communication happening in Whatsapp groups like the “Cyclone Idai medical group” I am a part of. 

The first patients arrive before any beds can be organised. Some have infected wounds, but there is no water for handwashing yet.

The process of rescuing the injured continues, amidst deep concern for those who are not being reached

Lying on plastic sheeting on the floor, patients are examined and stabilised by doctors and nurses.

As the sky clears up, more and more patients with broken bones or deep lacerations are evacuated by helicopter to Skyline.

Private ambulances take patients to hospital, while MSF transports people with less severe injuries to Chipinge district hospital approximately 50 km away.

Process and paperwork is bypassed when circumstances require speedy coordination between helicopter pilots and doctors departing for health facilities that are not accessible by road. Accountability becomes a question of conscience. Rapid assessments of risk versus benefit must constantly be made.

Day 5 (Wednesday 20 March):

While the first humanitarian donations are distributed, we meet a crowd of people marching uphill to salute the Zimbabwean president, who is expected to arrive this day.  

A well-known soft drinks company gains my respect by dragging hundreds of bottles of drinking water to where clean water is so desperately needed.

A fuel company comes in with heavy equipment to re-open roads, while mobile toilets are starting to appear and a national life insurance company has provided many beds.

We are setting up a pharmacy store when the tents are ripped from the ground by a whirlwind caused by a helicopter flying dangerously close. What a blunder!

Nevertheless, the process of rescuing the injured, stabilising them and transferring them to hospital continues, amidst deep concern for those who are not being reached. Walking into the valley isn’t an option.

The army and private companies on site are trying to open a direct road.

Can our team get into the district tomorrow?

You can read the next part of Marthe's diary here.