George Maponga in Masvingo
Four Chiredzi villagers, including a woman and her 11-month-old daughter who were last Thursday swept away while trying to cross the flooded Mutirikwi River are still missing amid fears they could have been eaten by crocodiles.
Mutirikwi is one of the most crocodile-infested rivers in the Lowveld and a search and rescue team combing the river for Kundai Chikwava (18), her daughter Shantell Hungwe and the Gambinya sisters Tryphine (14) and Tamuka (7) who were swept away in the river has failed to make much headway.
Only some human body parts that include parts of the thighs and ribs which matched Tryphine have been located.
The Chiredzi Civil Protection Unit (CPU) handed over the recovered body parts to Tryphine’s relatives and they interred them at her parents’ home at Village 8, Chiredzi North.
CPU Chiredzi chair and district development coordinator Mr Lovemore Chisema said besides the recovered body parts, nothing else has been found.
A search and rescue team combing the river since last Friday made little headway after covering an area stretching 7km along Mutirikwi River.
“We have been doing an intensive search for the missing four persons who were swept away in Mutirikwi River and save for some human remains that matched Tryphine Gambinya, nothing was recovered by the search team that comprised the police and villagers,” said Mr Chisema.
“The search operation has been going on since Friday and we have since informed the national CPU about our progress to date after covering 7km along the river and there is unanimity that we have done our best.”
Mr Chisema said while the search has not yet been officially terminated, indications were that the missing persons would not be found.
“We will still continue to undertake some isolated searches for the missing persons, but we suspect that their remains might have been eaten by crocodiles because the river is heavily infested with the reptiles.”
Besides crocodiles, Mr Chisema disclosed that the search effort was also being hampered by the river’s width which was also heavily braided making the search more complicated and cumbersome.
He paid tribute to local villagers for joining the search party while reserving special tribute to companies such as Tongaat Huletts Zimbabwe for also lending a hand.
The four were swept away on Thursday morning after water levels in Mutirikwi River suddenly soared while they were trying to cross from Ward 28 in Chiredzi West to Ward 16 in Chiredzi North constituency.
Four others, Sarah Mhloro (33) of Village 8 in Marapira and her three other children Tracy (15), Belinda (12) and Talent (3) Gambinya were lucky after they were airlifted by an Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopter from an island where they were marooned on Friday afternoon.
Mhloro, who is also mother to Tryphine and Tamuka, spent more than 24 hours stuck on the island while waiting for help.
Trouble started after a weir along Mutirikwi spilled following heavy rains, spawning floods downstream that swept away four people leaving Mhloro and her children marooned.
Besides rescuing Mhloro and her children the same AFZ helicopter also airlifted three Chivi villagers from Shindi area who had been marooned on a huge rock along Runde River.
Every year several villagers lose their lives in the Lowveld after being swept away by flooded rivers that would have burst their banks.