BY XOLISANI NCUBE/VENERANDA LANGA/FARAI MATIASHE
The Zimbabwe government has approached its South African counterpart to assist with sniffer dogs to locate victims of Cyclone Idai still buried under mudslides as it emerged that local dogs were not trained to search for dead bodies.
Around 350 people are still missing amid fears that many of them were still buried under the mudslides after the cyclone ravaged Chimanimani and Chipinge sweeping away homes and uprooting huge rocks from the nearby mountains.
Briefing journalists and captains of industry in Harare yesterday, Local Government minister July Moyo said rescue operations were ongoing.
“We are now educated that sniffer dogs can sniff for gold, can sniff for mbanje or other drugs, but there are specially trained ones which can sniff for dead bodies and those ones we generally don’t have them in Zimbabwe. Therefore, we are getting assistance from our neighbour in South Africa,” Moyo said.
“We expect that the first team should be arriving anytime between now and 12pm midday (yesterday) and the other team, was still mobilising to send more people to come here.
They will have four teams to be deployed together with our police and army units who are already in the area. Because we believe a lot of people are buried there, these sniffer dogs have become more important.”
An entire growth point and nearby suburb with more than 80 houses at Dzingire, popularly known as Kopa in Chipinge, was swept away by tropical Cyclone Idai floods.
“We still have not accounted for all because we still have a large number that is missing,” Moyo said.
“We think we are still missing some who have not been reported as missing. We also suspect that those who are missing from families are buried under avalanches, the mudslides which came from the mountains. These include heavy stones that have replaced what used to be residential areas.”
Moyo said so far rescue operations had managed to open roads to reach the affected people, but more needed to be done because only selected vehicles could access the damaged roads.
He said most of the affected families had been attended to, stating that reports of politicisation of food aid were disturbing.
Although observing that some of the reports were sensationalised, he could not defend Zanu PF councillors who were named to be dishing out donated food aid on political grounds saying as far as he was concerned such acts were not permissible.
He, however, defended the Chimanimani West MP Nokuthula Matsikenyere, saying she was not involved in the alleged mischief.
The minister revealed that MDC officials such as Brain James (former Mutare mayor) were involved in the rescue mission and their activities were above board.
“Yes, you have seen reports that Zanu PF (is grabbing aid), that cannot be a thing that is allowed,” Moyo said.
He suggested that Zanu PF officials were trying to help transport the foodstuffs to affected communities as they had vehicles that could reach the areas, but was quick to say a directive had been given to government officials not to use political offices to distribute donations because this had the potential of affecting relief efforts.
Later, Moyo released a statement in Senate, revealing that the confirmed deaths still stood at 179, much lower than the 259 given by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) last week.
“The official death toll is 179 and those that are missing (are) now at 349 and this information is coming from civic leaders, non-governmental organisations, village heads, school heads and ordinary people,” Moyo said.
He said some of the trapped bodies at Kopa could be of banana traders.
“We are working with the Ministry of Higher Education and the National University of Science and Technology to help us with DNA tests to identify bodies exhumed from the rubble,” he said.
Moyo also reported that the World Food Programme has now brought in larger planes which can carry 26 tonnes to the 23 heavily affected areas.
Most of the food was being stored at World Vision warehouses in Mutare, the minister said.