Arduous search, rescue mission at Dzingire as skies clear

BY EVERSON MUSHAVA/ TAPIWA ZIVIRA

On Wednesday this week the skies over Dzingire Growth point in Chipinge cleared for the first time in a week.

As the sun emerged, after ferocious rains and wind brought by Cyclone Idai had ravaged the entire settlement, destroying more than 80 houses and killing hundreds, there was a glimmer of hope.

For the few survivors like Langton, who had waited for this sunshine moment, hoping it would bring with it help from government, it ironically presented the challenge of dealing with the painful task of searching for the missing.

Of the survivors, none knew where to start looking for their missing friends, neighbours and relatives.

They were either buried underneath the monstrous boulders and masses of earth that had flattened and buried houses, or they could have been washed away downstream.

In a desperate search for closure, the community, including those from nearby areas, took advantage of the sunshine to join hands and start scouring the area for any signs of bodies.

Spread over a four-square kilometre area, a buzzing settlement only last week, was now covered by boulders as big as a fully grown elephant, mud and rubble.

Shells of cars, pieces of clothes and shoes, iron roofing sheets, chunks of concrete, tree logs and furniture items were all part of the debris the villagers had to start scouring through.

The traumatic thing was that they were not looking for the living, said Langton.

And to their relief, the sunshine brought some of the first vehicular traffic to the area since the disaster began a week ago.

A total of five army trucks rolled into Dzingire on Wednesday morning, drawing curious stares from the weary locals, who hoped that help had finally come.

Scores of soldiers, in pairs, ventured into the destroyed part of the area and could be seen casually offering a hand, while an army helicopter made periodical circles around the devastated community.

A rumour about the coming of President Emmerson Mnangagwa to the area began to circulate, but it seemed to just remain that – a rumour – until around 2 pm when the sound of choppers filled the air.

The hordes of people who were scattered all over the place scurried to catch a glimpse.

The soldiers and some police officers who had remained largely inactive throughout the day sprang into action, commandeering people to be orderly.

As the first chopper descended towards a maize field some hundred metres from the disaster radius, some people could be seen frantically trying to cross from the disaster zone to the higher ground where the President was expected to land.

Others, however, continued with their work, digging out rubble in search of the dead.

As the first chopper landed, the second and third followed behind, in formation, much to the awe of the community, many professing that they had never seen a helicopter at such close range.

As the dust settled, so did the sound of the rotors gradually, leaving a silence so thick one could hear a pin drop.

The community watched as the President and his entourage of over a dozen people, emerged from the planes.

Giving the security details a hard time, they jostled and popped their heads to catch a glimpse of the most powerful man in the country.

Even as one police officer pleaded with the crowd to sit down, it all fell on deaf ears.

“Who among them is ED?” asked one little girl, and the friend pointed to a man wearing a beige jacket, a white cap with a Lacoste logo, safety shoes, a loose fitting pair of brown pants and a multi-coloured scarf.

Mnangagwa and his entourage went past the gathered crowd, with his security details enforcing a clear distance between him and the people.

Notable was one old men who defied Mnangagwa’s security personnel to clear the path for the Zanu PF leader, staying put with his rather menacing dogs very close by.

They proceeded to the edge of the area where houses had been destroyed and an official who had come earlier in the day, led the entourage.

Interestingly, a local village head remained with the crowd as Mnangagwa was being shown around.

Acting Defence minister Perrance Shiri and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga addressed the crowd before Mnangagwa

During his address, full of lofty promises about planeloads of food and medicine being on their way to the community, there was constant chatter among the people.

To him, it appeared all that mattered was the public relations side of the visit, as in tow was the State media crew that captured every step he made.

“To those who want medicine, tell us. We will give you. We have the medicines,” he shouted, notwithstanding that senior doctors have downed tools over unavailability of medicines in public hospitals.

“We have friendly nations. From where I was (the United Arab Emirates), they are calling us, sending planes and asking us what we need in order to help you. We are here, tell us what you want,” he added.

For a people that had waited for days for help of food, a roof and warm clothing, and importantly the salvaging of their relative’s families, Mnangagwa’s address sounded like one of those election speeches void of emotions or empathy.

As he was about to finish his address, people started walking away, towards the makeshift bridge, back to the destroyed zone.

They had a job to finish, some murmured.

They needed to account for their loved ones.

By the time his entourage left for the helicopters, people were back to dealing with the mammoth task at hand.

And as the sound of the rotors faded into the horizon, silence returned to Dzingire and reality began to sink once again.

It was back to the search for the remains of the dead, and a search for closure.