The Herald (Harare)

29 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Violent Storm Wreaks Havoc in Mt Darwin

Endesayi Poyera of Zambara village eagerly waits to hear news on the condition of her mother and son who were taken to Mt Darwin District Hospital.

Although she still has pains in the back and on her arm, her main worry is the condition of the two hospitalised after sustaining injuries when the house they were in collapsed following violent winds that swept the area.

She stares flatly at her siblings who are busy preparing supper in the open as she ponders the next move. She does not have bus fare to visit the injured at the hospital or the money to start repair work on the family home.

While she is still stuck in the heavy thinking and hoping for better news, a truck arrives and her mother in plastered legs is helped off the truck by a well-wisher.

Although she is relieved that her mother is back home, she scans the back of the truck for her son.

She is told that her son had to be transferred to Karanda Mission Hospital, some 170 kilometers from their home for further medical attention.

On hearing this, Endesayi breaks down wailing and other members of the village join in as if there is a funeral only to be warned that crying could be a bad omen for the child.

Endesayi is one of the several people who were affected by the recent violent winds that destroyed houses and schools in Mt Darwin.

The incident, which occurred around a fortnight ago, shocked many people who were expecting rains so that they could start planting.

The area had never received any meaningful rainfall to plant crops and as the weather got hot that Saturday everyone expected a heavy down pour.

But surprisingly within some hours, the people were hit by violent winds without a single drop of rain falling.

Narrating his ordeal, Mr Michael Muchineripi said he heard strong whistling sound and thought it was going to rain only to realise the winds were getting stronger and violent.

"I quickly woke my wife up and children and we ran out. We were afraid the house was going to collapse," he said.

Headmaster at Zambara Primary School Mr Francis Mashipe said the winds were so strong that he was afraid of even going outside.

"After part of the roof of my house was blown away, I sought shelter in one of the rooms which still had patches of asbestos above it," he said.

Mr Mashipe could hear people in the village screaming and crying out for help. The winds lasted less than 10 minutes but the destruction was big.

In no time the whole village was busy assisting those who had been injured.

Most houses in the village collapsed, the lucky ones managed to escape unhurt while the unfortunates were trapped in the houses.

Mr Walter Kararira who had his hut destroyed while he was sleeping said he was lucky to escape without injuries but it took him some time before he located his baby who had been sleeping in the same room.

"I quickly rushed outside for safety. I managed to retrieve my baby, who had been trapped under rubble. We managed to trace his whereabouts from his crying," he said.

Mr Karira had to remove heaps of rubbles to get to his baby and fortunately he escaped with minor injuries.

The injured were ferried to Mt Darwin by a local businessman and a Mt Darwin Hospital ambulance.

On arrival the victims were confronted with another problem, most of the victims did not have cash to pay for medication.

One of the victims Mrs Fessy Poyera had to be assisted by a Good Samaritan.

"Most people couldn't get treatment because they did not have money. Hospital authorities gave us an option to pay with chickens but we do not have anything left in this drought prone area," she said.

She said a number where still hospitalised with minimal attention as they could not afford to pay for the services.

The windstorm did not spare locals schools. Three schools Gomo, Zambara and Chionde Primary schools in the area were damaged.

At Zambara School winds destroyed four blocks of classrooms and the headmaster's house with asbestos being reduced to small pieces.

School authorities estimate the damage at US$40 000 a figure they say will be difficult to raise. Mr Mashipe said the incident had worsened the situation at the school which had inadequate classrooms.

"Students have started writing their end of year examinations and we are being forced to use the two blocks that survived the roaring winds," he said.

The school has an enrollment of 424 pupils who have to be accommodated in the remaining four classrooms.

At Gomo Primary School, the winds destroyed 40 asbestos sheets, ridges and 10 desks. The headmaster at the school, Mr Rabban Chiparira said the winds were so strong that people could not see what was happening.

"We were not in a position to move the furniture from the classrooms," he said.

Chionde Primary School lost two classroom blocks and two teachers' houses.

According to the people in the area in 2011, strong winds were also experienced during the onset of the rainy season but this time the magnitude had increased.

Mt Darwin District Administrator Mrs Gumburayi Wadzwanya said the incident was unfortunate as it affected many families who were left homeless. She said the situation could have been better had the National Early Warning Unit advised the community accordingly. But a senior Meteorologist, Mr Elisha Moyo said this was a rare phenomenon.

"We have not kept records for the area and it is difficult to come up with a solid cause.

"Our preliminary findings are pointing to a very localised system such as strong winds, thunderstorms with hail and lightning which is common during the rainy season," he said.

Mr Moyo said the temperatures, which rose in the area the previous day of the incident, were an indicative of hail or thunder.

"This is an area specific situation which can not be picked up by computer generated weather systems which help us in forecasting," he said.

Mt Darwin Meteorological officer, Mr Albert Mhonda blames the magnitude of the damage to desertification.

He said the wind could have done less damage had there been trees in the area.

Mr Mhonda advised the families in the lowlying areas to put up strong structures, which can not be easily destroyed by winds.

He said the incident could also be related to the climate change that is taking place.

While some experts are busy debating on whether what is happening in terms of temperatures and rainfall patterns is climate change or climate variability; the most important thing is for all stakeholders to work together on adaptive measures.

The Civil Protection Unit said since September 2012 it has been holding awareness campaigns on floods, hailstorms and lightning in prone areas.

CPU director, Mr Madzudzo Pawadyira said the campaigns are carried out in schools and communities with assistance from traditional leaders.

"We have always been encouraging people in the affected area to plant gum trees so that they act as windbreak.

"The area is almost a desert and winds will continue to wreck havoc if there are no trees," he said.

elita.chikwati@zimpapers.co.zw

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