Grief is the prevalent mood in Chambuluka Village in Chikwawa.
There, a widening crack splits a murky spot where villagers found a dead woman buried in mud after saving her visually impaired husband.
“The gaping crack in forming the crust breaks my heart too,” says Kaitano Sadya, 89, who lost his sight to cataract in 2015. “My wife was almost everything to me since we married in 1992. She was my breadwinner, my helper and my best friend.”
The death of Fanny Mtonthola personifies the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Ana in the Shire Valley district, where severe flooding ripped numerous homes to ruins and buried crops on Monday.
The deceased’s village is draped in mud and rubble, with scatters of standing homes and camps for the displaced.
However, most villagers around Bereu Trading Centre grieve the death of the good woman widely eulogised as selfless.
Multitudes from Chambuluka, Nsembe, Kantchewa and other villages attended her burial in a shallow grave in the thick of a waterlogged cemetery on Wednesday, five hours after the discovery of her body covered in mud.
According to her husband and siblings, it was around midnight that they heard footsteps of feet fleeing surging water and she instantly carried him on her back to a safe place.
He explained: “Just after delivering me to safety, she rushed back to the village to rescue some goods.
I told her it was risky, but she insisted. That was the last time I spoke with my wife, who always put my safety first. Had she not carried me first, I would have been dead.”
Neighbours say the ardent farmer tripped into furious floods, which swept her.
“She was carrying a sprayer on her back and an empty bucket on her head when she slipped to death,” recalled her brother Madinga Edalasi, 70.
The destruction caused by the aftermath of the stormy torrents left the strong bonds that unite affected villagers into an extended family snapping, with the displaced population scattered into camps here and there.
Chikwawa district commissioner Ali Phiri reports that thousands have taken shelter in 44 camps across the district where the floods have claimed 10 and 15 missing.
“The death toll could be higher as some deaths remain unconfirmed and others unreported. There are shocking stories and the true severity of this will be known when assessments are over,” he said.
According to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), Tropical Storm Ana has affected about 217 000 people in 50 000 households across 13 districts.
However, multiple destruction of the M1 has slowed relief and response efforts in the Shire Valley districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje.
Said Dodma response and recovery director Reverend Moses Chimphepo: “Government has provided K1.9 billion for our response, but we are overwhelmed because the disaster is huge.
“Although assessments are still underway, a lot of people in evacuation camps have nothing to sustain them because some areas are still impassable and there is no electricity and piped water in Chikwawa due to infrastructure damage.”
The wounds opened by the storm, which landed in Madagascar on Sunday before blowing into Malawi via neighbouring Mozambique, are all over the banks of the Shire River.
In the low-lying area, the Great Shire and other major rivers burst their banks and cut off the country’s largest transport corridor.
This has complicated delivery of relief items, movement of search and rescue teams as well as access to health care and basics.