After Cyclone Idai in Malawi, a search for new homes

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MWALIJA, Malawi (AP) — Ellen Madson's home is now rubble. Cyclone Idai swept through her Malawi village in March and left her with little but a mud-covered teapot.

Like hundreds of thousands of people in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe she has been forced to start anew. Idai was "one of the deadliest storms on record in the southern hemisphere," the United Nations has said. More than 1,000 people were killed.

Malawi, already one of the world's least developed countries, saw about 86,000 people displaced. The effects have been "quite devastating," said the country representative for the U.N. refugee agency, Monique Ekoko.

Madson, a subsistence farmer, is one of those displaced. Even the family livestock are gone.

From her new shelter in a displacement camp with hundreds of other survivors, she recalled her family's fear as the storm waters quickly rose.

"One of my children climbed a tree to reach safety," she said. "But even the trees were becoming submerged. We managed to find a high concrete structure and when we got there, we gave up. We didn't think any of us would survive. It was by the grace of God that we made it."

Her family and other villagers were rescued by a government-dispatched boat nearly 24 hours later.

Now the search for new homes has begun. Weeks have passed and some in the camp are impatient to move on.

"There are many challenges here," said Rainford Kwala, chairman of the camp in Mwalija. "Even the structures that you see here are not suitable for a family. Parents and children living in the same small space."

The Malawi Red Cross Society has stepped in, setting up transitional shelters as a starting point for housing.

"For now we have started to construct for the community of Mwalija, where we have already built the five pilot shelters and are continuing with the 95 further shelters," said Cecilia Banda, the society's coordinator for Chikwawa district.

Madson was able to secure one of the shelters.

"The house means a lot to me," she said. "Of course it's not permanent, or solid. I will need something more permanent. Something built with bricks. I lost almost everything, so it will take some time to rebuild my life. But I don't wish to return to my old village. Here we are looking to the future."

Malawi's government is identifying higher land for the resettlement of displaced people, said Harris Kachale, director of disaster response and recovery.

"The areas that were flooded are not suitable for housing, as such," he said. "They should never go back to the low-lying areas. If anything, the low-lying areas should maybe be used for farming."

The Red Cross temporary homes are not perfect. They lack a nearby water source, for example.

But there is no immediate risk of flooding, something that Madson and other survivors never want to experience again.


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