It has been more than a week since Virginia Samuel last saw two of her children. Her family was marooned for four days in the stands of a basketball Stadium after Cyclone Idai brought floods along the Buzi River in central Mozambique, where she lived.

A helicopter hoisted Samuel to safety with her two youngest boys, aged 5 and 6. But there was no room for her 12-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter.

She is haunted by the memory of them screaming for her as the helicopter flew away, leaving them behind with their grandmother.

“I have to pray to God so that I can see my mother and my children again,” she said, wiping tears with her patterned skirt at a camp for displaced people in the nearby port city of Beira.

Hers is a common plight in this part of Mozambique, where families were ripped apart in the chaos of the cyclone and floods across an area roughly the size of Luxembourg.

As many as 4 900 children may have been separated from their families, according to preliminary figures compiled by a group of United Nations and other humanitarian agencies.

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