Communities picking up the pieces after Cyclone Idai

BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA

IT remains a puzzle. More like an endless search for closure as those who are missing their loved ones after Cyclone Idai continue to be taken from pillar to post, with each intervention failing to accord them what they wish for — to give their relatives a decent burial, or to at least know where their bodies lie.

The puzzle, for those who lost their relatives on the night of March 15 when Cyclone Idai swept through Chimanimani and Chipinge districts, creating massive land and rockslides that obliterated many buildings in their path, is whether the missing were buried under the mud and rocks, or had been swept away into neighbouring Mozambique.

Last week, to try and solve the puzzle, search experts from the South African Police Service were flown into the country with sniffer dogs, with support from South Africa’s
Gift of the Givers Foundation and Zimbabwe’s Higher Life Foundation — and for Harryman Kazembe, who lost his wife and five-year-old daughter, there was hope.

The dogs, which were trained to specifically identify human remains, sniffed the hardest hit areas of Ngangu and Kopa townships, and they identified a total of 23 points, where the dead could have been buried underneath.

Manicaland provincial administrator Edgars Seenza said the sniffer dogs identified 12 points in Ngangu, which have been marked, while other 11 points were identified in Kopa.

However, a week later, and more than half a month after the disaster struck, the hope that the sniffer dogs brought appears fading with each minute, with only a few bodies having been recovered in Ngangu, according to the locals.

This is despite government reporting on Wednesday that excavators would soon be moved to Ngangu to move the big rocks believed to be covering some bodies.

“On this part, only two spots were marked and there was nothing. I only heard they discovered two bodies on the other side,” one Eddie, from Ngangu’s new stands area, said.

This is where 11 bodies were said to be underground after sniffer dogs scanned through.

Pointing to a dug-out area, where there are clear earthmover tracks, he said: “Here, they brought an excavator to remove the huge boulders after sniffer dogs had indicated there was a body under the rubble, but nothing was found, only a fridge with rotting meat was dug out,” he said.

Police could not immediately provide the latest figures of newly-discovered bodies, and Seenza’s mobile phone was not reachable, but several people at Ngangu and Kopa said the momentum to look for bodies was dying down.

“Since the dogs came, no new bodies were discovered,” a police officer, who is part of the dozens of cops deployed to Kopa, said.

It appears even the locals, who only last week were milling around the most affected area, helping out in the search for the dead, have given up.

The affected area at Ngangu now resembles a ghost town, deserted, with only a few people whose houses remained standing clearing out the mud.

There is no sign of searching or digging, and yet the stench of rotting flesh remains strong all over the area.

The situation is the same at Kopa, where, according to the villagers, no new body has been discovered since the sniffer dogs left.

The area at Kopa, where a huge part of the township, including a police station and over 80 houses were destroyed and buried under huge boulders, has since been deserted.

At both Ngangu and Kopa, thousands of people from the area are now spending time at the various points where aid, mostly food, is being dished out.

Last week, thousands had besieged Dzingire School at Kopa where food handouts were being given out under the tight control of soldiers.

“I do not know where to search anymore for my lost child, so I have given up. My immediate worry is to now get food to survive,” one of the survivors said.

With reports that some bodies had been found and buried in neighbouring Mozambique, Local Government minister July Moyo told the media last week government was not in a hurry
to repatriate the bodies and would facilitate for relatives to visit the grave sites.

This is despite the fact that the bodies had not been identified and survivors would remain in the dark on whether their relatives were buried in Mozambique, or were still
trapped under debris in Chimanimani.

“Right now, we are not in a hurry for the interred bodies in Mozambique to be exhumed, though that might be done later when the situation normalises,” he said.

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