BY JACK MCBRAMS
In a devastating turn of events, the tranquil slopes of Soche Mountain in Blantyre’s Three Ways community were transformed into utter destruction as Cyclone Freddy unleashed its fury.
Amidst the chaos and panic caused by massive rock boulders and towering mudslides, a heartwarming story of resilience emerged. Six-year-old Promise Banda, a nursery school learner, miraculously survived under rubble for three days, defying all odds.
As Cyclone Freddy’s wrath descended upon the community, the unsuspecting residents were in a life-or-death situation. Colossal rock boulders, set in motion by the relentless force of the cyclone, came crashing down while wall-high mudslides engulfed the area, leaving devastation in their wake.
The once calm and close-knit community of Three Ways became a frantic battleground as terrified individuals scrambled in every direction, desperately seeking safety amidst the chaos. Promise, his mother, two-year-old sister Pamela, and a neighbour caught themselves in the mayhem. Instantaneously separated, each fled for their lives, propelled by sheer survival instinct.
Eyewitnesses recount the harrowing scene, describing the heart-wrenching cries of children and the deafening roar of nature’s fury. The scattered and disoriented residents of Three Ways struggled to comprehend the magnitude of the disaster unfolding before them.
Among the countless stories of bravery and resilience that emerged from the chaos, Promise’s survival stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of humanity. Displaying extraordinary courage beyond his tender age, this six-year-old faced imminent danger with remarkable strength. Adapting to rapidly changing circumstances, he ensured his survival.
“I sought refuge inside the house, seeking safety behind a wall and the fridge as the devastating mud approached. However, the sheer force of the mud caused the fridge to shift towards me, trapping my legs underneath. The weight of the fridge pressed down on my legs, while the other part fell against the wall, creating a barrier that confined me underneath,” recounted Promise.
Although surrounded by mud, miraculously, Promise remained uncovered. Unfortunately, his trapped legs prevented him from getting up, leaving him stranded for three agonizing days without food. Meanwhile, his mother, believing him to be deceased, was unaware of his miraculous survival.
After searching for him relentlessly for three days, the family had almost resigned to the assumption that he was dead. They were on the verge of burying a stranger they mistakenly thought was their son when they received word that Promise had been buried under the rubble.
“The incident occurred on Monday, [13 March], during the midday hours, following three consecutive days of relentless rainfall. At that time, I was away from home, fulfilling my duties as a house helper close to our residence. During this period, Promise’s mother approached me, expressing concern over being unable to locate her child. Promptly, my employer, accompanied by her friends and me, rushed to the scene, determined to find Promise amidst the wreckage,” explained Promise’s father, Steve.
Arriving at the site, they were confronted with the devastating sight of the house completely obliterated by the force of the mudslide. Exhausting every possible effort, the group combed through the area, exploring every nook and cranny to find Promise. Despite their relentless search, Promise remained elusive. However, they persisted, persevering until nightfall cast its shadow upon them.
In the aftermath of the catastrophic events, Promise’s mother, Mary, bravely recounts the following heart-wrenching events.
“The following day, on Tuesday morning, a young man came forward with a disheartening report. He informed us that he had discovered two young boys, but unfortunately, one of them, identified as Promise, was in critical condition and had been urgently transported to the hospital. Overwhelmed by urgency, we swiftly arrived at the hospital at approximately 4 pm. Tragically, the medical staff informed us that Promise had indeed been found, but regrettably, he had succumbed to his injuries. The hospital advised us to identify the body for burial, intensifying our grief-stricken situation,” she explains.
Upon reaching the morgue, the women were amidst immense chaos, as numerous bodies from the disaster were present. Amidst the confusion, they hastened their search for the child, identified as Promise Banda, aware that time was of the essence. Amid this overwhelming turmoil, they identified the body associated with Promise and decided to proceed with his burial.
Promise in the hospital two days after he was found
A Ray of Hope: Promise Found
As the family arranged the funeral the following day, Steve, Promise’s father, received a glimmer of hope amid the overwhelming grief. A message from one of their neighbours revealed that they had revisited the incident site and discovered Promise alive, rushing him to the hospital for medical attention.
Overwhelmed with conflicting emotions, the family hesitated to believe in the possibility of such a miraculous occurrence.
“However, we needed to verify this information to determine the fate of our beloved child. In a desperate attempt to confirm the news, I requested the chief to open the coffin to examine the body before proceeding to the hospital. Upon opening the coffin, I immediately realised that the body was significantly smaller and lighter than our son’s physique, prompting us to proceed to the hospital to pursue our missing child,” Steve explains.
A Life-Saving Operation on Promise’s Legs
Finally, the family’s hopes were confirmed at the hospital as they found Promise alive, receiving the joyous news of his survival after the harrowing ordeal.
“But his legs had been severely injured as a fridge had fallen on him while he tried to escape. When we arrived at the hospital, medical professionals urgently attended to him, as the pressure from the fridge had cut off the blood supply to his legs.”
Subsequently, a decision was made to transfer him to the Mercy James Centre for an operation to restore blood circulation in his legs.
The operation took place on the first day, Wednesday, immediately after he was rescued from the rubble.
“We waited for three days, hoping that the blood would start circulating, but unfortunately, it did not happen, leading to the difficult decision to amputate his legs,” Steve explains.
All eight houses on the plot were destroyed except for the two walls of the house (on the left), which sheltered Promise for three days.
A Miracle Story: Promise’s Remarkable Survival
Steve further explains the challenges they faced in locating Promise amidst the initial search efforts, as the area where their house stood was submerged in mud up to three metres high.
“Incredibly, the spot where he was found was like an island, as all seven houses on the plot had collapsed, leaving only the small area where he was hiding still intact. On that Wednesday, our landlord had sent some boys to survey the area, and they managed to navigate through the mud, eventually reaching the house where they heard Promise’s cries and rescued him from the mud,” Steve shares.
Mary expresses her overwhelming delight at her son’s miraculous survival.
“When I saw him at the hospital, it felt surreal because, after everything that had happened, I had resigned myself to the belief that he was gone. So, to witness him alive before my eyes was nothing short of a miracle. Right now, my heart is filled with immense happiness and gratitude.”
Facing Challenges Ahead
“Although we are grateful that he was found alive, we understand that his life will pose difficulties without his legs. As he approaches the time for school and embarks on his primary education, we find ourselves uncertain about what steps to take. We are in dire need of assistance. The hospital has informed us that he will require prosthetic legs once his wounds heal. However, this comes at a significant cost.”
On the road to recovery: Promise with his mother and little sister Pamela
Promise’s Dream: A Future as a Policeman
“When I grow up, I aspire to become a policeman. I can’t quite explain why, but it genuinely appeals to me,” Promise shares. He continues, “I eagerly anticipate the day when schools reopen in August, as I’m excited to commence my primary school education. At this moment, I humbly appeal to the kindness of well-wishers to support me in acquiring prosthetic legs, allowing me to walk to school just like my peers.”