HARARE – Thousands of people are at risk as Zimbabwe braces for devastating storms and floods which weather forecasters say could leave a trail of destruction in three provinces which are set to be hardest hit.
The Meteorological Services Department (MSD) said yesterday that tropical Cyclone Dineo was approaching Matabeleland South, Masvingo and Manicaland, where heavy winds and torrential rains were expected to pound towns and villages in these provinces starting today till Monday.
“The areas likely to be impacted most are Masvingo and Matabeleland South provinces, as well as the southern areas of Manicaland Province.
“The MSD is closely monitoring the situation and will issue another alert as soon as the level of significance warrants it. Tropical cyclones are preceded by very strong and damaging winds, followed by extreme flooding,” meteorologist Chenai Sithole said.
The Civil Protection Unit (CPU) also advised yesterday that people at risk should be evacuated from the affected areas before the cyclone hits.
Zimbabwe experienced its worst floods in living memory in 2000 when Cyclone Eline left a trail of destruction in Manicaland, where more than 136 people were killed and 59 184 houses and huts were damaged.
Apart from the loss of human life and property, 230 dams also burst, leading to severe flooding which led to the deaths of more than 20 000 head of livestock.
The Daily News learnt yesterday that officials in the three provinces were frantically trying to mobilise resources and institute mitigatory measures.
In Mutare, mayor Tatenda Nhamarare said they were working around the clock to prevent likely damages that could result from the storms and floods.
“We are trying our level best to counter the potential disaster coming, even with the limited resources that we have.
“But in the event that the situation is beyond our control, we expect central government to assist,” Nhamarare told the Daily News.
In Masvingo, while mayor Hubert Fidze said the city was satisfied with its preparations for the impending cyclone, the Masvingo United Residents and Ratepayers Alliance (Murra) said it was very worried.
“As residents, we are extremely worried since the alert was issued some few days ago. The city is not doing anything to prepare for the pending disaster.
“We have not seen council workers fixing storm drains in and around the city, so we are anticipating a disaster as floods might affect residents in various ways. We also have fears that if floods hit us, disease outbreaks could also ensue,” Murra warned.
But Mayor Fidze said: “We are ready for anything, anytime. Storm drains are opened up and we never reported any flooding this season. We actually need the rains to boost our lake (Mutirikwi), which is currently at 19,2 percent.”
Bulawayo mayor Martin Moyo said his teams were on the ground in those areas which were prone to flash floods.
“They are advising residents on what to do and where to go should this eventuality arise. They are watching out for houses in low-lying areas, ready to evacuate and provide whatever relief may be required.
“Some security walls may need to be broken to allow water to pass. We have disaster management in place, crafted and co-ordinated among all concerned, namely the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Zimbabwe National Army, CPU and the Sub-Aqua unit of the police,” Moyo told the Daily News.
Cyclone Dineo is expected to bring around 90mm of rain to parts of the provinces, at a time hydrological reports indicate that all dams on the river system have been spilling for the past three weeks.
Zimbabwe is prone to flash floods because most of its forests have been stripped bare by people cutting down trees for firewood and to make charcoal for sale.
Meanwhile, the MSD has also urged people to avoid crossing flooded rivers and swollen streams where the depth was unknown.
“Avoid driving on roads covered by water and be very cautious at night when it’s harder to recognise flood dangers,” it said, adding that people should also not seek shelter under trees or in isolated sheds.