Sunday, 25 January 2015

SUNDAY THOUGHT - Malawi Flood Disaster

“Remember that I have commanded you to be determined and confident! Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Jon, my son in law sent me these photos and letter from people working in the south of Malawi where they run an orphanage under Iris Ministries and I wanted to share them with you. 

As some of you know my daughter and family are in Blantyre, Malawi and although many parts of the town are flooded, they are safe except Blantyre has NO water which is a BIG problem.

As quickly as possible, David Walker (Iris Missionary) and myself (David Morrison) prepared our two Iris boats and gear.  Pounding rain caused poor visibility as we put the boats in at the flooded Bangula market.  Flood surges with wild currents moved through the district, transforming the Shire River into a huge sea, stretching east and west many kilometres past its usual banks (at least 5 km’s on the west side, and likely close to 15 km’s on the east side.) Our district is just one of many other areas devastated by floods.  The government has declared one third of the country a disaster zone.

It wasn’t hard getting the boats in the water.  We put the boats in just meters off the main highway.  Assisted by a marine police officer in David Walkers’ boat, and Hedson Nsitu (House Father at Iris) in my boat as our navigators, we set out towards the area of James Village on the other side of the Shire River where most of our distress calls were coming from.   We went with the authority of the Nsanje District Commissioner.  

After navigating for two hours across the flooded Shire River, we were well into the villages on the east side, moving through the waters covering fields, and maneuvering around roofs of homes.  We were in Mterika Village.  It wasn’t long before we heard the screams of people who saw us first.  We found numerous groups of people huddled on tops of termite hills.  Rescue with the boats was difficult because of raging waters surrounding the ant hills.  In some areas the current and waters created white water and hay stacks.  One particular rescue was extra challenging, causing us to have to make several attempts because we kept getting carried down with the powerful current.  We eventually found that sweet spot of quieter water, like an ‘eddy’ between the currents on the down side of the flow.  I used the engine power to keep us in place as Hedson helped the people into the boat as quickly as possible.  In this village we needed to move as many as possible in the shortest amount of time so we simply took them a short distance to higher ground within their village. 

It was heartbreaking to force them to leave all their belongings on top of the ant hills – we just didn’t have space and lives were more important.  It wasn’t long before some of those ant hills were eroded by the current.  Many more would have perished had they remained on those hills much longer.

 From there we went to James Village and found people in similar situations, some in waste high waters.  After rescuing about 70-75 people we had to make the hard decision to head back to Bangula as daylight was running short, otherwise, we too would need rescuing.  Leaving people behind was heart breaking, but there was nothing we could do.  By the next day the Malawi Defense Force had arrived with their boats and continued rescuing people in that same area.  I know many more were saved.  Sadly, many have perished.  The toll of this flood is only now becoming clear.  Today, the official count is 176 people have perished and there are still hundreds missing.  Out on the water we witnessed the destruction of thousands of homes.  Currently it is estimated that there are 200,000 people displaced.  Only about 1 home in 10 remained standing.  In some areas, every home was destroyed and washed away by the currents.  Livestock, crops, houses, ox carts, all washed away.   

Emergency shelters have been set up at all the primary schools so for now, education is on hold, and it could be weeks before students get back to schools.  Tents have been provided for the displaced and there are camps set up in strategic places such as behind the Bangula Primary school. In a culture where extended family has no boundaries, many of our staff have been inundated with extra mouths to feed – some have 20 extra people in their homes.  Picture:  Making nsima at the camp for displaced at Bangula Primary School ground.

 The Malawi government has promptly responded to this disaster.  The World Food Program have already provided food by helicopter drops to those still inaccessible by roads or by boat, and have provided food for those in the camps.  However, the clean-up and rebuilding from this disaster is going to take months, likely years.  The road leading east from Bangula towards Makhanga has been completely destroyed.  Not damaged, but completely eliminated, bridge and all.  All that remains is the main steel railroad bridge over the main Shire River.  It stands as an Island.  On Thursday, David Walker and I piloted our boats, working together with the Malawi Defense Force and Police, evacuating people from that bridge who had been stranded there for three days.  We had seen people there Tuesday as we headed out to James Village but the current was so powerful, we had the sense not to even try to attempt getting close to the bridge. 

I have a great respect for the soldiers and the police that we have been working with this week.  We have been impressed with their skill, strength, and willingness to put their lives on the line in order to help save the lives of others. 

Now that the initial emergency rescue operation is complete, we can focus on how we can help the displaced.  We are aware that there is an immediate need for baby formula and fortified porridge, soap, blankets, buckets and water purification tablets/solution.  Long term, people will need food assistance, seed for winter planting in May, resources for local schools, and provision for people to rebuild their homes.

The Iris base has weathered the storm so far.  We are adjusting to intermittent generator power as most of the southern districts of Malawi have been without power since Monday.  We are repairing part of our front security wall that collapsed due to the force of rain.  Currently we have no power in our office so I’ve set up in our living room to make use of our back up battery power. 

We have (7) displaced people living here with us here at Iris, the last of those we rescued from James Village on Tuesday. We brought them back here where they are completely safe with dry clothes, food, and shelter. 

Please pray for all the people of Malawi.

Thank you for visiting.

Many thanks for all your comments.


  1. How devastating, I am so very sorry. I am glad you are alright, you have been through a lot. But still posting and letting us know what is happening. You are a brave lady!! I know where your daughter and family live, but where is your home?

    1. HI Ginny If you look in the side column at my profile you will find out all about me. Thanks for your comment.this weekend I am in South Donegal, Ireland with a birding group.

  2. So very sorry about this disaster, Margaret. Fantastic response from the Iris Mission and the government. Thanks for making us aware of this. I'm praying for the people of Blantyre right now. Greetings Jo

  3. What a terrible tragedy this is.
    Well aware that there is help and emergency shelter.
    Respect for all people who offer help in this tragedy.
    Have a good Sunday.
    Best regards, Irma

  4. Those poor people. The living conditions after the disaster are catastrophic. Thank you for sharing and spreading the word.

    Mersad Donko Photography

  5. It is always such a tragedy, when these natural disasters hit and when so many lives are torn and flipped upside down and many lives lost as well. It appears that your daughter and her husband and those who are there to help support these people, are doing a great gift in easing the burdens of so many. I have lifted them up and He will watch over them~

  6. Margaret, I am sorry about this disaster. I am glad your family is Ok. I will keep the people of Malawi in my prayers.. Thanks for sharing, enjoy your week ahead!

  7. My hat is off to those who responded so courageously and so well. Prayers for Malawi. blessings ~ tanna

  8. i read about this on msn, but a personal account of someone working hard to rescue and help is so much more sobering. bless them all. they have lost so much.

  9. Glad to hear your family are doing fine. Sorry to hear of the disaster and thanks for sharing.

  10. It seems that there is either too much water or not enough. It is good remember that God is still in control.

  11. Thank you for sharing news and images of this disaster. Encouraging to see God at work through your son, the local government and Iris workers. May He strengthen them and keep them all safe as they continue their rescue and follow-up efforts.

  12. Thanks for sharing these shock photos and great raport.

  13. Margaret - thanks for sharing this. I had heard nor read nothing about this disaster. Prayers to those in need and thanks to the work of your family there.