Thank Kondowe, 12, lies in pain at Rumphi District Hospital with bruises all over her body, arms and head.
She did not sustain the bruises from a beating. They are a painful reminder of the noble act she undertook in trying to save her mother and two sisters in the thick of the Tcharo disaster that saw floods fell houses following a heavy downpour.
Unfortunately for Thank, she could only save her three-year old sister, Joyce. With flood waters rushing down from Mphompha Hills with rocks, she braved it all and held on to Joyce for two hours before a rescue team came.
Her other sister, Stargate, 10, who slipped through her fingers as she lost some energy to hold on to two people, as well as her 45-year-old mother Joyce Nyachingati Nyirenda, are among the five people the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) has reported missing.
Thank is at Rumphi District Hospital under the watch of her mother’s sister-in-marriage, Lit Nyirenda, while Joyce is receiving treatment at David Gordon Memorial Hospital at Livingstonia.
When The Nation visited the two and other injured persons, Thank, visibly disturbed, narrated the ordeal she went through.
She recounted that when flood waters started filling their house, neither her mother nor her two sisters noticed. They were fast asleep. Thank says she noticed it was raining heavily outside.
The downpour flooded streams which in turn moved big stones and rocks down to Lake Malawi at Tcharo.
Thank says she got terrified and woke up her mother and the two sisters.
Thank, in a very low tone, said: “The water reached bed levels and I noticed that something terrible had happened. So, I woke up my mother and my two sisters.
“At first we didn’t even know what to do because the house had started falling. There were heavy rocks and we ran the risk of being covered and buried there.”
At this moment, she says walls of their house had started falling. The roof over them was blown off while the fast running water with heavy stones kept coming in.
Two houses belonging to the family’s neighbours had already been reduced to rubble.
Thank said the four of them started off together, ignorant of where they were running to because the place was now filled with water.
She said: “I firmly held Joyce because she couldn’t walk alone while my mother got trapped in the tree logs and stones and could not move. She shouted to me to try and save my sisters.
“We were being forced by the heavy water and rocks. As we moved, I felt like trapped and lost grip of Stargate. I tried to shout to her to get Joyce, but she had already been carried away by water. Joyce had only one person. That was me!”
At this point, Thank went back to bed in pain. She could no longer speak.
Lit Nyirenda, her guardian, added that from the time Thank got stuck, she never saw Stargate and her mother.
Said Nyirenda: “After she found space to move, water swept them again and the two got stuck in debris closer to the lake. She was stuck in between tree logs and stones while still holding on to Joyce.
“Luckily, where she got stuck, there was a rock and she tried hard and placed Joyce on the rock. She did that for two hours before people in canoes came to rescue them.”
The two sustained bruises all over and were referred to Gordon Memorial Hospital where they were separated as Thank was taken to Rumphi District Hospital where district medical officer Westain Nyirenda described her condition as improving.
At Gordon Memorial Hospital, Jenala Nyasulu, Thank’s grandmother, said the situation is improving but there is a lot that needs to be done.
“I don’t know what could have happened if Thank was not brave enough to do what she did. I hope those searching for the missing will do their work so that we see them,” she lamented as innocent little Joyce took her lollipop.
Ishmael Nyirenda, the clinical superintendent at Gordon Memorial Hospital, said apart from medical help, they are also providing spiritual and psychological assistance to Nyasulu’s grandchild.
“Physically, these people are injured, but they are also mentally injured. We are providing care, but we also chat with her, give her toys, just to make her happy, so that she tries to forget what happened,” he said.
Dodma has distributed relief items to the affected families in the area.
On Monday, Dodma director for response and recovery Harris Kachale led his team to cheer the injured. During the visit, Dodma provided K50 000 to each of the injured and pledged further assistance.
Besides Joyce and Stargate, others reported missing are Rhoda Msiska, 35, from Zakazaka Village, Frarley Kondowe, six, from Msuku Village and Alenzi Kondowe, one, also from Msuku Village all in Sub-Traditional Authority (ST/A) Chapinduka.
They are feared to be buried under huge rocks that came down Mphompha Hills.
Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers are on site trying to devise ways on how to find the missing persons from the rubble.