Cyclone Freddy Update

A view from the ground in Malawi and what you can do

Summary
  • Cyclone Freddy has brought flooding and landslides across southern Malawi and Mozambique with hundreds or even thousands likely dead.
  • Almost every partner church of Gospel Life has been affected by this disaster.
  • You can give to our Disaster Relief fund online or by mail.

While many of you may be reading about the devastation in Mozambique and Malawi due to Cyclone Freddy on news sites like the BBC or CNN, I wanted to give you a personal and ground-level update from Malawi.

Cyclone Freddy now holds the record for the longest-lasting storm of its kind. Having started near Australia, it came across the Indian Ocean and hit Madagascar and southern Mozambique. Instead of moving further inland and breaking up, Freddy moved back out to sea and picked up steam, hitting Madagascar a second time.

Flooding near our Ngabu campus in the Lower Shire region.

On late Saturday, it came back across the Mozambique Channel and made landfall again at Quelimane, Mozambique, where it slowly made its way up the Zambezi valley to southern Malawi.

We began seeing rain and wind in Zomba, Malawi early Sunday morning. While we got a lot of rain, we were quite optimistic on Sunday and even into early Monday. As the storm hit Malawi, it weakened to a tropical storm and then to a low pressure system. Having witnessed Cyclone Idai in 2019 and Cyclone Ana in 2022, our team felt that Freddy, while doing major damage, would not reach the level of crisis that we saw with Idai or Ana.

However, what Freddy lacked in intensity it has compensated for in longevity. As you will see on the map below, Freddy hovered over southern Malawi, then headed west before turning back again toward Malawi.

Over Monday afternoon, we began hearing some of the first devastating reports from Blantyre, the largest city in southern Malawi. Some of the mountains around the city, which have been deforested and populated by people squatting in make-shift homes, experienced flash flooding and landslides. Devastating videos began to pass through the country on WhatsApp with the bodies of children being washed away.

On Tuesday morning, I heard from Michael, our director of ministry in the Lower Shire (the very southern tip of the country). With constant rain and water coming down from the highlands, the Lower Shire region was finally experiencing major devastation. We remain optimistic that many lives in the Lower Shire were saved due to early evacuation from the most flood-prone areas.

We have yet to establish communication with many of our partner churches further north in Zomba, Phalombe, Chiradzulu, and Mulanje districts. But what we have heard and what stories are circulating generally from these districts are not good. It is clear that flash flooding and landslides have taken many lives, homes, church buildings, livestock, and crops. Note that this storm is occurring barely a month before the harvest for maize and rice, staple foods for most people.

At the time I’m writing, news outlets report a confirmed death toll of about 200, but once recovery work is able to proceed and communication is reestablished with many rural areas, the death toll will likely be in the thousands just in Malawi. Due to the more isolated nature of many of the communities in Mozambique, little is known at this time about effects there, but it is likely to be more of the same.

Again, to compare with previous storms, Freddy feels uniquely devastating because of its length and breadth. While the previous storms had affected only some of our partner churches in particular regions, Freddy has affected everyone.

As a team, we are currently reevaluating all ministry plans and seeking the Lord’s wisdom about what to do. We have cancelled our modular pastor training schools scheduled for the end of March. Our residential students were scheduled to finish exams and return home at the end of this week. While they are concerned for their families, we have kept them here for their own safety and may be hosting some of them longer than expected as we learn whether or not they can get home with many roads and bridges washed away.

Let me emphasize that this is an ongoing disaster. As I write, the rain is still falling, and we are still gathering information. We are asking you to give so that as the Holy Spirit leads us in the best ways to love our brothers and sisters in Christ we can respond quickly. Plans will undoubtedly change as we respond to this developing disaster, but you can know that anything you give for disaster relief will go directly to help those affected by this storm and that we are here for the long-haul.

“Disaster Relief” is now a giving option in our online giving, or simply note “Disaster Relief” on any check you send to Gospel Life, PO Box 19, Hardin KY 42048.

 

Picture of Joshua Hutchens

Joshua Hutchens

Joshua Hutchens (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a missionary to Malawi and president of Gospel Life. Before becoming president of Gospel Life, he served as a pastor in Kentucky. He is married to Stacy Leigh, and they have five children.

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