By Tendai Kamhungira & Shamiso Dzingire
Zimbabwe is reeling from the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Idai, which forced President Emmerson Mnangagwa, pictured, to cut short his trip to the United Arab Emirates.
This comes as the government has deployed the Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force of Zimbabwe to help rescue stranded villagers and students in the hard-hit Chimanimani area in Manicaland Province.
At least 31 people have so far been reported killed, with hundreds more displaced by the tropical cyclone which reached the country from Mozambique late on Friday night.
The cyclone also destroyed key infrastructure and swept away hundreds of homes, mainly in Manicaland.
The government said Mnangagwa was expected home yesterday “to be directly involved with the national response by way of relief to victims of Cyclone Idai”.
“The president has cut short his trip to Abu Dhabi to attend to the cyclone issue.
“Whilst he was there he took the advantage to canvass for aid for the victims of the cyclone,” permanent secretary in the Information ministry Nick Mangwana told the Daily News.
Mnangagwa had travelled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the invitation of the Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Sultan Al Nahyan — to discuss areas of cooperation between the two countries.
The government was leading from the front in rescue efforts, after it dispatched soldiers and specialised police sub aqua units in the frantic search for missing people.
Mangwana said at least 31 people had so far been recorded dead since the storm hit the country, adding that the death toll was expected to rise as rescue and recovery efforts continued.
He said soldiers had been deployed to the Roman Catholic Church-run St Charles Luanga School, where 197 students were stranded.
This followed a landslide which hit the school and buried a dormitory, amid reports that there were students trapped in the rubble.
“That’s the biggest focus of the rescue team. Their (soldiers’) approach is towards where the students are, and we hope the operation will yield positive results.
“The students remain safe and the rescue teams are getting closer to the eye of the incident,” Mangwana said.
He added that significant rescue efforts had taken place overnight, with the Meteorology Services Department (MSD) downgrading Cyclone Idai to a tropical depression.
Among other things, the devastating cyclone swept away schools, bridges and homes in low lying areas in Manicaland, amid reports that more than 150 people were missing.
This followed a week of heavy rains and flooding across south-east Africa that has also killed at least 126 people in Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa — and which has affected more than one million people in the region.
Meanwhile, the government has declared Cyclone Idai a national disaster.
This was after the devastating cyclone left a huge trail of destruction in Manicaland.
Chimanimani East Zanu PF Member of Parliament Joshua Sacco appealed for assistance.
“The situation is drastic and there is need for assistance in tents, food, blankets for affected people. Any assistance will be greatly appreciated,” Sacco said.
He said many villagers had been displaced after Haroni River in Ward 12 had burst its banks.
“The Nyahode River at Kopa Business Centre has also burst its banks, resulting in the flooding of Gata Police Camp and surrounding homes.
“Major rivers like Rusitu are also in flood, affecting villagers in the Vhimba area.
“In ward 15 area, a flash flood and mudslides have resulted in more than 30 houses being washed away. In the old location, five houses have collapsed so far. The villagers at Manase in ward 13 have also had their houses washed away,” Sacco added.
Thankfully, the situation was said to be much calmer in the flood-prone Save Valley region, although some huts had been washed away in the lower basin of the river.
Villagers in Chisumbanje reported relentlessly heavy rains and extremely strong winds which were battering the area.
At least three bridges along the Mutare-Chimanimani highway had also been washed away.
A sombre atmosphere was reported at Nyamusundu Village, under Chief Muusha in Chimanimani, where four people from Gambire and Magora homesteads have died after the houses they were sleeping in collapsed.
A distraught Chief Muusha said he had been inundated by reports of widespread destruction in his area.
He also bemoaned the sweeping away of four bridges in his area, including Biriiri Bridge which connects two schools to the Chimanimani-Mutare highway.
Rusitu Valley was among the worst affected areas, with many bridges swept away and hundreds of people stranded.
In a laudable gesture, Chimanimani Hotel was offering free accommodation to hundreds of stranded people in the area.
The hotel had converted its conference and boardrooms into makeshift accommodation rooms.
Several companies and organisations had also joined the government in mobilising and pooling resources to help the victims of Cyclone Idai.
Harare-based Christian organisation, Miracle Mission, said it was mobilising for basic rations for the displaced people, and appealing for donations in the form of medical supplies, non-perishable food supplies, clean water, toiletries, clothes, and blankets among other items.
Meanwhile, the MSD yesterday said it anticipated a “significant decline in bad weather” across the country.
“Light rainfall activity is expected to persist in parts of Harare Metropolitan, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East and the northern districts of Manicaland provinces with the rest of country remaining relatively dry with more outbreaks of sunshine, making it much warmer than of late,” the MSD said.
Zimbabwe experienced its worst floods in living memory in 2000 when Cyclone Eline left a trail of destruction in Manicaland, where more than 136 people were killed and 59 184 and huts were damaged.
Apart from the loss of human life and property, 230 dams also burst, leading to severe flooding which caused deaths of more than 20 000 head of livestock. DailyNews