BY EVERSON MUSHAVA/KENNETH NYANGANI/FARAI MATIASHE/SILAS NKALA
ABOUT 259 people have so far been confirmed dead and 217 unaccounted for, while over 16 000 households have been displaced by Cyclone Idai-induced floods that hit the eastern part of the country last week, a United National agency responsible for migration said yesterday.
The International Organisation for Migration said 100 people were still marooned in the country’s most affected areas of Chipinge and Chimanimani, while hundreds had been injured.
Aid agencies said the death toll would likely rise.
Some rescue workers told NewsDay Weekender of many “floating bodies” at the confluence of Rusitu and Nyahode rivers.
Rescue missions continued, with the Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopters and other partners stepping their rescue efforts, airlifting survivors to Chipinge District and Mutare General hospitals.
Mobile operator Econet Wireless Zimbabwe brought in six helicopters, several drones and rescue boats.
“We believe no stone should be left unturned in the search and rescue of survivors,” said Econet Zimbabwe Group chief executive officer Douglas Mboweni, who has virtually left his full-time job to focus on the crisis.
Mboweni is leading a team of more than 50 volunteers from the Econet group and its Higherlife Foundation.
“We use drones for inspecting structural defects on our towers, among other network deployment related things, but we realised that we can use them in the search for survivors. They are better than helicopters in certain situations because they fly much lower. We give all information to the authorities that we are working closely with,” he said.
Mboweni said companies in Victoria Falls and Kariba had sent specialist boat crews to navigate the rivers, while others had supplied specialist equipment.
“We also have doctors who have joined us as volunteers,” Mboweni said.
Yesterday, NewsDay Weekender witnessed some survivors with bruised and swollen faces receiving treatment at Mutare General Hospital.
The Urban Council Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ) yesterday pledged to contribute equipment towards the reconstruction of infrastructure in areas that were hit by Cyclone Idai.
UCAZ president and Gweru mayor Josiah Makombe told journalists in Harare that the association, which is made up of 32 urban local authorities, was committed to supporting government in mitigating the effects of the destruction of infrastructure by Cyclone Idai.
“As urban local authorities, we are aware that efforts to restore damaged road infrastructure is underway to enable relief to reach affected. However, the equipment on the ground is inadequate. Government has called upon local authorities to contribute plant and equipment,” he said.
“We have heeded the call and some local authorities have made available bulldozers, front-end loaders and tipper trucks, which we are handing over to government through the parent ministry.”
Harare City Council pledged to contribute $30 000, while the City of Bulawayo pledged $20 000.
UCAZ committed 10 tipper trucks, three front-end loaders and one grader, among other equipment.
Makombe urged government to relocate people illegally settled in wetlands, as they were vulnerable to flood disasters, while also calling for the capacitation of the Department of Civil Protection to effectively enable it to deal with disasters.
Chimanimani East legislator Joshua Sacco (Zanu PF) said they had identified distribution points for airdropping relief in areas currently not accessible by road.
He said airdrops to Ngangu, Machongwe, Chikukwa and other affected areas were being done by the airforce and other partners.
“Relief is trickling in. Once the access roads are opened to heavy traffic, then relief will come in bulk. At the moment, small vehicles have been getting access,” he said.
“Once we have heavy traffic to Ngangu and Kopa then the bulk of aid can reach the people. We also had a good response from the donor community and well-wishers. I have been on the ground identifying routes in most affected areas. I have been mobilising equipment, Air Force has done evacuations of patients and supply of medication at hospitals.”
Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri was reportedly earmarked to visit affected areas yesterday near Mozambique with a Chinese delegation to assess the damage of infrastructure.
The tour was postponed following reports that the helicopter they were supposed to use was assigned to other missions.
The Chinese government on Thursday donated 11 truckloads of foodstuffs, clothes and other necessities worth at least $300 000.
An international development charity, Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), estimated the victims of Cyclone Idai, which hit Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, at over 1,6 million.
In a statement, VSO said its volunteers and programmes teams had been working within disaster-affected communities in Mozambique and Zimbabwe and had witnessed the devastating impact of the tropical storm.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) said its relief efforts were being co-ordinated through its development agency, CARITAS.
In a letter, ZCBC encouraged all sectors in the country, the government and churches, civil society groups, business and development agencies to work together in a harmonised way to bring immediate and long term relief to all the “unfortunate people whose lives have been devastated by Cyclone Idai”.
“Such disasters can remind us that we are all brothers and sisters, that we all share the great dignity as beloved children of our loving Lord. Our life on earth, though very precious, is very fragile and any day can be our last day,” ZCBC said. “Let us use each day to show love to others, to value the gift of human life and to believe that our lasting home is in heaven, where there will be no more tears and sadness.”