Overnight, Mozambique’s second-largest city disappeared. All the lights in Beira went off.
Its buildings vanished under six metres of water.
Its roads were washed away, its bridges were torn from their foundations, and its people — well, still no one knows how many of its people survived.
They huddled together on the roofs of three-storey buildings as the floodwater lapped at their feet; or, trapped in the branches of the tallest trees, they braced against gale-force winds and waited for a rescue that, for many, never came.
This was no ordinary natural disaster. Mozambique has weathered more than its fair share of floods over the years. Cyclone Idai was more powerful than anything that has come before. It was “a disaster of great proportions”, said President Filipe Nyusi, who flew over Beira in a helicopter and saw bodies floating in water where there used to be villages. More than 90% of the city of 500 000 people was destroyed, said the Red Cross. The United Nations called it “possibly the worst-ever weather-related disaster to hit the southern hemisphere”.