BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
A SOMBRE atmosphere engulfed Paradise Park in Marondera yesterday during the burial of one of the students from St Charles Lwanga High School, Munashe Jena, who succumbed to Cyclone Idai-induced injuries in Chimanimani on Friday.
It was not a narrative for the faint-hearted, as some of the students who travelled to Marondera to bid farewell to one of theirs recounted how they spent three days with their colleagues’ corpses in the classroom, waiting for the government rescue teams to take them to safety.
It all started on Friday night when a rockfall hit their dining hall, killing a security guard instantly before landing on the dormitory in which Jena and other boys were sleeping.
According to the students, it happened so fast and one of the deceased was hit by a chunk of glass from the window pane as disaster struck.
One of the students at the funeral still had muddy shoes, a sign that he was, indeed, coming from a difficult situation.
The chilling moment came when the boys narrated how the bodies were placed in the Form 1 classroom as they waited to be rescued.
“After retrieving the bodies, they were placed in a classroom as we waited for rescue. It was terrible and scary. The bodies were lying in the classrooms covered with blankets,” one of the students, who was visibly traumatised, recounted.
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The students, after realising that there was no rescue for almost three days, embarked on an uncertain journey to Skyline for safety.
They recounted that some villagers and the boarding master made some makeshift coffins to ferry the corpses to safety.
“Some villagers and the boarding master then made some makeshift coffins to ferry the corpses of our colleagues. We went ahead, at night, not knowing where we were placing our feet. It was gambling, any mistake one would slip and that would have been the end. The road, the terrain was dangerous. The villagers and boarding master were behind us with the bodies, dicing with death as they manoeuvred their way to the nearest rescue point, at Skyline,” one student narrated.
“That was the only option. We couldn’t remain at the school for long since we were now certain that no rescue would come our way. If we had remained there, it would have gotten worse, we were confused. We made it to Skyline before the police took the bodies to Chipinge.”
The school guard was buried in the same area where he hails from.
Jena, a Form 1 student had joined the school on February 6 after his parents had transferred him form another school to the Catholic-run institution, which is regarded as one of the best in the country.
The students, however, bemoaned the treatment they got from army officers, who mistreated them upon arrival to safety.
“When we arrived at Skyline, the soldiers who were there said they were not in a position to assist us since they had come to clear the road. It was only after we threatened to proceed on our own that they agreed to ferry us to a safer destination. One of our teachers almost got manhandled by the soldiers as he argued that we needed assistance,” the student said.
The trauma of the students worsened as people, including authorities, jostled to take them photographs, while some falsely claimed credit for rescuing them.
“We made it on our own to Skyline. No one helped us. Some were taking pictures of us. It was disturbing,” another student said.
The two deceased students were wrapped in blankets provided by the boarding master.
Scores of Marondera residents thronged Paradise Park Cemetery to bid farewell to young Jena who was laid to rest yesterday.
His body arrived on Monday night before burial was fast-tracked, since it was in a bad state.
According to his relatives, it was not an easy task to fetch Jena’s body, but said they were glad that finally he was laid to rest.
The burial was attended by acting provincial administrator Clemence Masawi, students from St Charles Lwanga, Marondera mayor Chengetai Murowa, Chief Makoni and civil servants, among others.
At least 100 people reportedly died while several others are still missing in the wake of the cyclone which made landfall in neighbouring Mozambique.
Government yesterday advised relatives of the deceased to go ahead and bury the bodies to avoid decomposition as mortuaries in the district were dysfunctional following extensive destruction of the power supply system throughout Chimanimani.
St Charles Lwanga High School students arrived in Mutare on Monday night, where they received counselling before being reunited with their families.