PHOTOS: Lives washed away: A mother's loss in Mozambique

A tear falls down the face of Maria Jofresse, 25, during an interview with Reuters at a camp for the displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, near Beira, Mozambique, March 31, 2019. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

CHEIA, Mozambique — Maria Jofresse cannot find her two young daughters' graves, though she helped dig them herself. A single teardrop swells beneath each of her dark eyes as she recalls the moment the girls were snatched away by fast-flowing floodwaters.

It took four days to find their bodies, which were buried where Cyclone Idai had left them, far from where they lived.

"I cannot recognize it anymore," the 25-year-old mother said, drying her eyes with a patch of patterned skirt at a makeshift camp of blue tarpaulin, near the riverside village of Cheia. "I cannot find them."

On the night of the storm, Jofresse took shelter at her mother-in-law's house with her husband and children, a 6-month-old baby and a 4-year-old girl.

The next day, the river beside the village broke its banks and water rushed in. The family fled, trying to reach the main road, which lies on higher ground.

But the water was too quick. Afraid they'd drown, the family climbed into a single cashew tree.

Maria Jofresse cooks in her makeshift shelter in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, April 4, 2019. Jofresse lost her two children to the storm. "People suffered indeed, but no one suffered as I did because I lost the most precious things I had — my kids," she said. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

For 11 hours they clung to its branches, Jofresse cradling the baby while her husband held their other girl.

At 10 p.m., in total darkness, the flood ripped the tree's roots from the soaked earth, throwing the family into the fast-flowing water and separating them.

Jofresse survived by grabbing onto another tree. The next day, wading through the now largely stagnant water, she found her husband. Together they searched for the girls.

On the morning of the fourth day, they found the body of their elder one, and in the afternoon, their lifeless baby.

Jofresse at her makeshift shelter during an interview, April 2, 2019. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

The children were among more than 800 people killed in the storm and the heavy rains before it struck Mozambique and two other southern African countries, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

After digging two small graves, the couple joined other families at the camp set up just a few miles from their destroyed home.

"We will stay here, because there's nothing to go back to," Jofresse said, sitting in a small square of shade at the camp.

"You can come and live with me," her father, Joao Jofresse Ngira, interjected, distraught at his daughter's pain.

Jofresse did not answer.

It is not the first time she has lost a home. In 2000, when she was just 5, devastating floods destroyed her nearby village of Mashongo.

The government moved the family to a new community, built for those with nowhere to go after that disaster.

Tchacaca Quembo outside her damaged house in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, April 1, 2019. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

Ngira showed Reuters around the village, located by the River Muda. It became known as Cheia, or "flood" in Portuguese — "because we were brought here from the water," he explained.

The spot was chosen because it was on higher ground and less prone to flooding.

"It was meant to be safe," he said, standing outside the ruins of the four-room house the government helped him build. Five young children played in the pile of broken bricks and cracked cement.

Cheia's fate shows how climate change is threatening places that just under two decades ago were considered safe.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the catastrophe in Mozambique rings "yet another alarm bell" about the dangers of global warming, which scientists say will make devastating storms like Cyclone Idai more frequent.

"Since this disaster we haven't seen anyone from the government, even though they're the ones that put us here," Ngira said.

Joao Jofresse Ngira, 59, in front of his damaged house in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, March 31, 2019. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

Asked if he would like to move somewhere else, he looked down at his muddy yellow sneakers before replying: "I don’t have any money. It's best not to dream."

On the Sunday when Reuters visited, the camp bustled with rumors that food would be delivered that afternoon.

It had been a week since the last bit of aid arrived, and people were hungry. Jofresse canceled a memorial service for her daughters because she feared the food might arrive while she was gone.

When the aid finally came, Jofresse unpacked the parcel in her blue tent. There was a set of diapers. She put them to one side. (Reuters)

Reuters story by Stephen Eisenhammer and Zohra Bensemra

Photography by Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

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Maria Jofresse holds a stuffed toy she received for her seventh birthday as she stands where her house stood. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse prepares to cook in her makeshift shelter. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse waits to receive humanitarian aid at a camp for people displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse speaks with her neighbors as they wash clothes in floodwater. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse carries aid packages at a camp for the displaced. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse walks at the edge of the Muda River to meet her father, who works on a water taxi. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse stands after having a shower near her collapsed house. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Tchacaca Quembo at her damaged house. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse watches her mother, Ester Thoma, preparing food beside their damaged house. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse listens while her husband, Albano Arnando, chats with neighbors as they stand beside their tent at a camp for displaced people. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Luisa Antonio, 14, at her damaged house. "I would like to be a teacher or a policewoman, but as I don't have a father to help me with the studies, I will stop at grade six and try to get married when I'm 16 years old to escape poverty," she said. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse walks with her neighbor near a camp for the displaced. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse walks with her parents to a camp for the displaced. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse walks behind her mother-in-law, Teresa Miquitaio, as she carries wood to build a makeshift shelter. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Ester Thoma walks past her damaged house as a boy plays with his glasses. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Ester Thoma cooks at her damaged house. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Bernado Jofresse, 14, eats rice for breakfast as he sits beside his family's damaged house. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Jofresse and her mother wash themselves in the water of the Muda River as Maria's father returns from the opposite shore. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

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