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.

Thanks

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."
David

18 February 2007

Missions and more flooding

We have just got back today from another flight.

Similar to last week, this also turned into a dual purpose trip.

We took some guys from a church in Cape Town to visit missionaries in Marromeu, Moz. Two of the guys were actually thinking of moving up there to join the team. It's fairly rough where they live - no electric, and water comes from a well. Baths come from standing in a large tin bucket and chucking water over yourself with a cup. They have limited solar power and candles, but when the sun goes down it still gets very very dark. What you probably can't imagine is how ridiculously hot and humid it is there - you never really get dry after a shower. And then there's the insects....

The team there work with the communities along the Zambezi and especially down into the delta region where it flows into the Indian Ocean. They have recently obtained a boat for these purposes but we used it the one day to scope out the extent of the flooding on the river. As we traveled we heard of people who needed help. At one village we found a mentally challenged boy who had been accused of stealing - he didn't know it was wrong just to take food when he got hungry and so he was a good target. This time though, village justice took it's course and he had his big toe cut off with a machete - a month ago. He was very reluctant to get on the boat and had to be carried by the villagers. We ferried him back to Marromeu and took him to the local 'hospital'. After fetching the A and E guys ourselves he did get the stump cleaned and bandaged. He has no family so we took him back to where we were staying and put him up for a few nights. He will go to hospital again this coming week and then likely back to his village.


Relief organisations are mobilising for flood relief and we did another survey flight for Food for the Hungry International (FHI). It was interesting to compare water levels with what he saw last week. The river is certainly higher but not at the levels that the popular press would have you believe. Still, the situation is cause for concern and Mercy Air's helicopter flew up to the area today to be of help if needed.


We have flown over 30 hours in the last eight days, and we will definitely be trying to have a couple of days off this coming week.

Thank you for your prayers.

Mercy Air team

13 February 2007

Medical mission and flooding

Just a quick update on this last weekend's trip.

We flew the medical outreach team to Inhambane where they travelled four hours inland with them to a place called Panda.

They ran clinics practically all day, every day as there was an almost endless queue of people from the surrounding area.


Meanwhile, we also flew two hours north to Moz's second city Beira from where he flew a Zambezi flood survey flight the following day. We carried people representing the Christian organisations Food for the Hungry and Humedica. There were also people from Red Cross, World Food Programme and the Mozambican Organisation for National Disasters.


So:
Is there flooding - yes.
Did we see huts surrounded by water - yes.
Under water - yes.
Have people been displaced - yes.
Did we see people stranded on the roofs of their huts or clinging to trees - no.
Were there any villages floating downstream - no.

The situation is of concern but not yet a fully fledged disaster. However, the volatile nature of the situation (rains and dam release upstream) does mean that all that could change in less than a week. Aid organisations are busy mobilising themselves at strategic locations along the river in order to be able to help if the need arises.

We are off again tomorrow taking pastors from Cape Town up to visit their missionaries (who actually live on the banks of the Zambezi). Whilst there, we have been asked to fly in some personnel and equipment for one such relief organisation. We will also do another survey flight further upstream from the one we did last weekend.

Mercy Air team

07 February 2007

Floods and maintenance

Christmas and New Year has come and gone and we are now back into the usual cut and thrust of daily life.

The rush seems to have started early this year with three back to back flights from this w/e.

The first is with a US doctor team who are doing a four day medical outreach through the Nazarene Church in SE Moz

The day after we get back we are off on another five day trip to take some pastors from a Baptist church in Cape Town to visit their missionaries in central Moz.

This morning we got a call from a Development/Aid/Relief agency in Moz who are trying to co-ordinate efforts to deal with what appears to be yet another potential disaster. They want us to do a survey flight along the Zambezi from the Indian Ocean to the Zambian border. Water levels on the Zambezi are already way above the alert levels and quote - "this year's crisis could be worse than in 2000 and 2001, when heavy flooding swept through the country's central and southern regions."

Until the Mozambique Government officially announce that help is needed, little work can be done. In the mean time contingency plans need to be made, which for now at least, is where we come in.

We will alsol likely leave the medical outreach to do this flight this coming Sunday.

Recently we were flying in the area and took this picture.


Each of these trips are likely to be relatively rough. On the first we will need to camp and the missionaries for the second one purposely live on the rough side of town where there is no electric or running water. February is also pretty much the hottest time of year. We're expecting there to be what the weather bureau describes as 'high discomfort indicies' which usually amounts to 35-40 deg with heaps of humidity.

The rush has not come at the best time for us really. We have been using the traditional Christmas lull to carry out maintenance on a number of our aircraft. The Beech 18 requires two engines to be changed and will not be back in the air till mid March and the 310 needs a whole heap of work doing and will be out of action for at least another four months.

This is hurting us quite bad as there is a great need which we are finding it hard to meet at the mo. The solution for us is newer turbine powered aircraft, obtaining one is very much in God's court right now though as they also come with a meaty price tag.

Mercy Air team