CHIMANIMANI - Tropical Cyclone Idai started easing off in landlocked Zimbabwe on Tuesday but left in its wake massive devastation, loss of lives and destroyed infrastructure.
At least 150 people are confirmed dead – although residents say the figure is much higher - and over 2000 missing in Zimbabwe after the cyclone swept inland from Mozambique’s coast, causing massive destruction in that country, parts of Malawi and most of eastern Zimbabwe.
The Harare government has declared a state of disaster in areas affected by the storm. Zimbabwe, a country of 15 million people, was already suffering a severe drought that had wilted crops.
Zimbabwe’s treasury has released US $18 million to rebuild roads and bridges, provide water and sanitation and electricity.
Families began burying the dead, but the death toll was expected to rise.
Rescuers were struggling to reach people in the Chimanimani district, cut off from the rest of the country by torrential rains and winds of up to 170 kph that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.
Thousands were forced to seek refuge in the hills and mountains dotting the province as water levels rose and homes – built from farm bricks and mud – collapsed under the rain, mudslides or were simply washed away by torrential rains. Intact Churches provided refuge.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa visited the cyclone ravaged areas on Tuesday. He had been criticised for flying off to Abu Dhabi on Saturday where he was seeking a financial bailout while knowing that a cyclone was about to hit.
He was forced to shorten his visit to the UAE to make a hasty return to Harare.
Speaking to journalists soon after touching down at Mutare Aerodrome, Mnangagwa said he was in Manicaland to assess the level of intervention that was needed to deal with the devastating destruction at the hands of Idai.
“We are here to assess the extent of the devastation in order for us to mobilise the necessary resources as government.” He said countries in the SADC region including Tanzania, Botswana, Angola and Namibia had asked Zimbabwe to tell them the type of assistance required.
MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa, who visited the province on Monday and spent time in Chimanimani, implored government to divert taxpayers’ money towards helping victims of Idai instead of “wasting that money funding useless trips”.
“What I witnessed left my heart torn and bleeding. People lost their lives. Some are still missing. Homes, livestock and infrastructure have been destroyed. The people have no food and clothes.
“Those in control of taxpayers' money must have heart and feelings, stop useless trips and use that money to alleviate the situation,” he said.
Local farmer Doug van der Ruit said there was, among other urgent responses, a need to open emergency health centres, bring competent people to the province to help re-establish water supply, and make sure shops were open for food supplies as he feared these would run out soon.
“We need helicopter support when the weather clears,” he said. “This is to evacuate urgent cases and to bring doctors and medical supplies in; also to bring food and other supplies.”
A private helicopter brought in doctors and medicine to attend to some of the injured.
“It looks like we will have real problems in the next few days. People have been amazing with offers of help, but right now, it's impossible to get supplies into the village,” van der Ruit said.
Ethanol producer, Greenfuel, on Tuesday deployed massive earth-moving machinery to ensure that the badly damaged Tanganda-Chipinge road was usable.
Greenfuel owner, Billy Rautenbach, said machinery and resources needed to repair the badly damaged roads were readily available.
According to Risen Mlambo, a teacher in the area, the community had buried 50 dead in mass graves on Tuesday.
“We could not continue to live with the dead,” he said. “Government officials are still to reach us here but we decided to take matters into our hands and bury our kith and kin. Some family members we buried in one grave of at least six bodies, but others we buried two per pit.
“Places which used to house hundreds of families are now just flat plains, with no evidence that the places were once populated.
“Electricity lines are down, and so are communication links,” he said.
Chimanimani East MP Joshua Sacco said he had confirmed 85 deaths, adding that rescue efforts by the military, government agencies and non-governmental organisations were being hampered by damaged bridges and roads.
Deaths in Zimbabwe are mainly in Chimanimani, a mountainous area along the eastern border with Mozambique that is popular with tourists. No tourist deaths were recorded, said government spokesman Nick Mangwana.
Elsewhere, journalists reported huge trees had fallen and boulders from mountain mudslides were blocking roads.
Local officials said a helicopter provided by the military was failing to access marooned villagers due to mist and strong winds, severely limiting the rescue effort.
Lawyer David Coltart has set up a Trust to raise funding for victims of the cyclone, at a time when many dubious organisations have been set to do the same. Reports have already surfaced of some donated foodstuffs going missing.