Stephen Ephraem in Chipinge
Scenes of family vehicles that are over-turned in residential areas, public transport stuck on roadsides, panoramic view of house submerged in water, bridges that are torn apart, people injured or the dead being lifted on makeshift stretcher-beds suits a Hollywood film script.
The scenes described are representative of the current situation in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts after a tropical cyclone named Idai hit the southeastern region of Zimbabwe that also includes Chiredzi.
The region is not new to tropical rains, with Cyclone Eline hitting hard at the turn of the millennium back in year 2 000. The strong twister left a trail of damage to infrastructure and loss of life in Chimanimani, Chipinge and Chiredzi districts.
The 2000 trail destroyed Changazi Bridge built on Changazi River that borders Chimanimani and Chipinge districts about 3km from Birchenough Bridge towards Mutare. Other bridges in Chipinge like Matembudze and Nyautsa that are along Tanganda-Ngundu highway were also hit hard.
Other pieces of infrastructure destroyed by tropical cyclone Eline included Chipinda Bridge built on Runde River just outside Gonarezhou National Park adjacent to Chipinda Pools in Chiredzi. Chipinda Bridge remains dilapidated up to this day although others were later repaired.
Cyclone Eline was responsible for the destruction of world class Mahenye Safari Lodge that was built inside Save River at Mahenye in Chipinge and was owned by the then Zimbabwe Sun Limited.
On the humanitarian side, Cyclone Eline seriously affected people in low-lying such areas of Chipinge as Tongogara Refugee Camp. The camp is situated closer to Zimbabwe’s largest inland waterway, Save River. The Vheneka area received a dose of the floods since water from Save River flooded the rural settlement. At Chinyamukwakwa, water from Musvazvi River affected homesteads but government’s civil protection arrangements made it possible to airlift to safety the affected souls.
In total, Cyclone Eline is on record to have killed at least 136 people damaged 59 184 houses in Zimbabwe.
As the country was still nursing wounds inflicted by Cyclone Eline, another storm named Cyclone Japhet hit the area in March 2003. Although Cyclone Japhet left a trail of destruction mostly in the Zambezi basin area of Muzarabani, it went as far as Gutu in Masvingo in the south and southeastern part of the country. This prompted the late Masvingo-born musician Paul Matavire to pen a song named Cyclone Japhet in that same year relating the ghastly effects of that tropical storm. In total, Cyclone Japhet killed about seven people in the country.
In 2017, another tropical storm named Dineo took place in February 2017 and affected the two Matebeleland provinces of Zimbabwe. People assessed Cyclone Dineo with mixed feeling as some claimed that it actually boosted the water bodies in the area since the region was already experiencing a drought. In the south-eastern region, it did not leave a record trail of destruction and no human life was lost.