From the air, Ibo Island on the Quirimbas Archipelago off Mozambique’s northeast coast, was speckled with flattened homes and water-logged farmland, testament to the destructive force of Cyclone Kenneth.
The popular tourist destination had gone without large-scale food aid since the cyclone struck six days ago, and the human cost of the disaster was only now being revealed.
“On the day, it was a terrible thing to live through because it was so strong,” said 50-year-old islander Armando Watela, as he cleared up the damage. The storm tore off his roof and punched a door-sized hole in his front wall.
“We couldn’t have imagined it would be so strong,” he added.
“Some people stayed at home, others went to stay at the fort for shelter, others went around looking for a safe place. Almost everybody lost their belongings.
“My pregnant daughter was in a room when the walls started to fall in, so we took the whole family to the fort.”
His daughter gave birth two days after the cyclone struck and is now recovering in a clinic on the island.
But 7,000 people were trapped in an increasingly desperate situation until World Food Programme helicopters reached the island on Wednesday.
The UN had described the challenges of reaching areas like Ibo after the cyclone — the first to hit Mozambique’s north in the modern era — as “incredibly difficult”.
The island can only reached by air or boat — a sometimes perilous sea crossing as it is also vulnerable to the elements.
And according to initial estimates, 90 percent of structures there have been damaged.
On Wednesday, some residents tended to their mangled or missing roofs, while others sat quietly as a 4X4 delivered packages of high-calorie biscuits.
“If somebody hasn’t lost everything, he’s a lucky guy because no one has escaped,” said a motorcycle taxi driver who declined to give his name.
Abdala Moto, who has an extended family of 16, told AFP: “Everything fell and now we are staying in a neighbour’s house while we are trying to rebuild our own.”
Cyclone Kenneth killed at least 41 people and destroyed thousands of homes across northern Mozambique. Ibo was particularly hard hit.
The island described itself as “the ultimate unique magical Mozambique holiday destination” and offered luxury lodges to tourists and honeymooners.
Before the storm, it was a haven of golden sands, unspoiled coral reefs and lush greenery.
Now, uprooted trees litter the ground, swathes of greenery have been killed by flooding and the choppy sea is a murky grey.
Eliza Miquidade, 27, had recently completed construction of her new blue house.
“I’m now desperate because I don’t know if I’ll get another,” she told AFP in front of her shattered home, its roof hanging off.
“We’re sleeping at the neighbours’. We don’t expect to have it rebuilt by the government or anyone else.”
Traditional healer Atija Alida, 50, said that she, along with her husband Momade Chabane, three daughters and one son, had lost everything.
“The bathroom is gone, and the children are now all sleeping in one small room,” she said as her possessions dried in the yard outside her house.
“I’m concerned no one will come to help the family — but we’re going to build again.”