TWENTY-TWO people were killed -- many burnt beyond recognition -- after a Mazda T35 truck ferrying mourners collided head-on with a Green Fuel tanker carrying 45 000 litres of ethanol which burst into flames on impact at 7am yesterday.
The vehicles collided near Checheche Growth Point along the Tanganda-Chiredzi highway in Chisumbanje.
The T35 truck -- laden with Muyambo family members -- was also carrying a coffin bearing the body of Clifford Muyambo who died on Monday.
The body also got burnt.
Twenty-one victims were burnt beyond recognition.
Police said six people had been rescued, but two died on their way to Chipinge District Hospital.
Four mourners, among them a child, were admitted and their condition was said to be critical.
They sustained head, spinal, internal injuries, fractured ribs and limbs.
Tragedy struck barely 20km from the mourners' destination at Mariya Village where Muyambo was scheduled to be buried today.
Manicaland police traffic co-ordinator Chief Inspector Cyprian Mukahanana confirmed the accident.
He said investigations were still in progress.
However, preliminary investigations point to driver fatigue.
The mourners - who were on their way from Chegutu - had travelled all night.
Apart from the mourners, a Green Fuel employee and tyre fitter who was with three others in the gutted truck was among people who died on the spot.
His lower part of the body was reduced to ashes.
The tanker was Harare-bound.
Charred remains of the deceased were taken to Chipinge District Hospital mortuary where concerns were raised over the facility's capacity to accommodate all the bodies.
Mr Johnson Chanyongonya, an eyewitness, said: "I was one of the first people to arrive within minutes of the accident and we rescued victims who were in the T35 truck. We retrieved them from the wreckage and put them to safety in the water way. Minutes later, the tanker exploded and the ethanol started flowing in the direction of the survivors. Since ethanol is inflammable, it caught fire and engulfed all the victims. We were all forced to retreat.
"The victims were burnt while we watched. We could not help the situation because the fire was ferocious. They died a painful death.
"Eighteen people who were in the truck died on the spot, and two on their way to Chipinge District Hospital. The Green Fuel truck had three passengers and one died on the spot, while two including the driver escaped with serious injuries.
"We had managed to put six victims to safety and administered first aid as we took them to St Peter's Mission Hospital. Two failed to make it. Their condition was beyond remedy. They sustained head and spinal injuries and had also lost a lot of blood," said Mr Chanyongonya.
Said Chipinge South National Assembly member Cde Enock Porusingazi: "This is really a black day. The victims struggled to death. Imagine what they went through as they were charred to ashes. They had travelled all the way from Chegutu only to meet their fate about 20km from their home. Even the coffin and its contents were also reduced to ashes."
A spokesperson of the Muyambo family, Mrs Irikidzai Mtetwa, said her family was shattered.
"It is a tragedy. We are in deep mourning. We are shocked that things have turned this way. It is unbelievable that the whole family has been wiped just like that. It is painful. This will be a permanent scar to the Muyambo family," said Mrs Mtetwa.
Zanu-PF provincial chairman Ambassador John Mvundura, who visited the scene in the afternoon, said the accident must be declared a national disaster.
"I am sorry about the occurrence of a disaster of this magnitude in Checheche. I know people die in accidents, but in my whole life I have never witnessed anything like this. I am shocked that a whole family perished and was reduced to ashes by fire."
Meanwhile, Green Fuel has extended condolences to the bereaved families.
"Green Fuel joins the Chisumbanje community, the nation at large and most importantly the families of the deceased, in mourning the lives tragically lost in a road accident which occurred today in Chipinge South, along the Tanganda-Chiredzi Highway near Checheche.
"As we come to terms with the devastating aftermath of this tragedy, we convey our sincere heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased," reads part of the statement.