BY Everson Mushava/Tapiwa Zivira
Rescue operations continued yesterday at Ngangu township, Chimanimani with sniffer dogs from South Africa identifying about 10 sites by midday where bodies are believed to be still buried in rubble following the Cyclone Idai floods that ravaged the Eastern Highlands a fortnight ago.
Two teams, with sniffer dogs each, combed the debris, identifying sites to be excavated for possible recovery of dead bodies.
The South African team, funded by Gift of Givers Foundation in partnership with HigherLife Foundation of Econet Wireless, was accompanied by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police in an operation to recover several bodies of people washed away by the floods and have not been accounted for two weeks after the floods.
One of the teams was initially scheduled to go to Kopa, but ended up going to Ngangu by road after a helicopter that was supposed to carry them failed to turn up. It was alleged the helicopter was scheduled to carry Cabinet ministers who wanted to visit the township.
Before the SA team jetted in, Chimanimani residents had taken it upon themselves to recover their missing relatives, estimated to be 70 by Ngangu Residents’ Association deputy chairperson Joel Muzondo.
A pungent stench oozed from the ground on some places identified by the dogs. At one of the sites, fluids believed to be of a human being were coming to the surface next to a huge rock.
The dogs were restless at one site, but not pointing to anything, forcing the SA police to suggest that the whole place should be dug up because the behaviour of the dogs suggested that there were many bodies under the ground around the area.
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Police Assistant Commissioner responsible for operations in Manicaland, Njabulo Ndofandaedza said he was happy the South African team had joined them in the rescue operations.
“I am glad that the South African dog handlers have come to assist us. What is happening here is that they are assisting us identify places where some bodies could be buried under ground. So far, the process is going on well. As you can see, they have identified some places and what remains here is excavation to retrieve the bodies,” Ndofandaedza said.
He said the team will proceed to Kopa today where over 300 people were submerged after the floods washed away about 80 houses. The team will then proceed to other areas. Residents were captivated by the dogs and tailed the search teams, hoping to recover their relatives’ remains.
Tatenda Zhambe, one of the residents, who lost two sisters said he last saw them at a verandah that was yesterday identified by the dogs for excavation.
“We were all at the place when a wave of mud came. That is where we last saw my sisters. I am happy that the dogs have come, this will bring closure to our relatives’ case,” Zhambe said.
Other residents were furious that the sniffer dogs were deployed late and questioned why the government had failed to deploy the dogs and wait for neighbouring South Africa. “So you tell me that the whole country does not have dogs? This is a joke,” one elderly woman said.
“The sniffer dogs should have been deployed a long time ago. So they (government) have dogs to set on us when we protest and don’t have dogs to search for dead people in case of a disaster? Shame on them.”