Disaster as 4 family members die after being struck by lightning

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The band of thunderstorms moving across Zimbabwe has killed five children, four of them from the same family whose hut was struck by lightning in Buhera district while the fifth died in Gokwe North.

The fifth child killed was from Kwashira village in ward 14 of Gokwe North where 17 homes were partially destroyed by the rain, reports the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, which is the home of the national Civil Protection Unit and its outreach into all provinces and districts.

The five-year-old child died from head injuries and two others from the village were evacuated to hospital.

All Civil Protection structures at national and sub-national level were put on alert after the warning of the coming band of thunderstorms, although the Meteorological Services Department yesterday highlighted that this was not the start of the rainy season.

Early storms tend to result in bursts of higher winds and a lot more lightning than the rains from the main rainy season, with a great deal of variation between different areas and even neighbouring villages and suburbs.

Through the National Multi-Hazard Contingency Plan a blueprint guiding national response to rainfall induced incidents food and non-food items are being distributed to affected households countrywide with partners being engaged to complement Government efforts.

Some of the damages encountered in places like Harare were solely blamed on the local authority’s ineptitude by failing to maintain old jacaranda trees that fall almost annually.

These trees have a lifespan of little more than a century and the major effort needed to check all planted early last century during a major planting programme and then start a replacement programme has not been done.

As usual the blocked and broken storm-water drains in central Harare led to flooded roads and heavy traffic jams.

In its statement yesterday, the Local Government Ministry said besides the deaths of five children in Buhera and Gokwe North, injuries had been reported in Gokwe North, Redcliff, Kwekwe and Mazowe districts.

“In Buhera district on Monday the district experienced saw the death of four children who were struck by lightning while sleeping in their hut with their mother. The lightning is said to have struck the hut killing the four children. The mother managed to escape the incident unhurt, but could not save her children,” said the Government.

While brick and concrete housing is considered a very safe refuge from lightning, research over multiple deaths in the open or in small huts has pinpointed the problem of a single strike creating a charged field on the ground that can kill people lying down near the centre.

“This is one reason why researchers suggest people caught in a storm in the open should squat, to reduce their height, but still have a small area of contact with the ground.

In its statement, the Local Government Ministry said most of the tents that had been prepositioned in Beitbridge in anticipation of receiving returnees from South Africa will be used to provide temporary accommodation for households affected by rainfall induced incidents.

“Rapid needs assessments are being done to ascertain immediate interventions required. Government has activated all Civil Protection Structures at national and sub-national level,” reads the statement.

According to a summary of damage in some of the affected areas in Gokwe North district in Ward 14 Kwashira village, 17 houses were partially destroyed by rains.

“One five-year-old child succumbed to severe head injuries. Two other people were injured and taken to hospital. The other affected areas could not be reached using small vehicles hence the district is mobilising vehicles from partners to conduct the assessments,” said the Government.

In Mhondoro-Ngezi district another 17 houses were damaged or destroyed with the affected households losing their food supplies; the Government has moved in swiftly dispatching maize grain to them while a school was also damaged in the district.

In Mazowe district houses at Henderson Veterinary College and other surrounding areas were damaged in a hailstorm and the district civil protection committee is on the ground carrying out rapid assessments.

In Kwekwe district three houses were damaged by the winds in Redcliff with rapid need assessments currently underway.

“Following heavy rains received and strong winds experienced in Kwekwe from 1Saturday, 10 tents that were being used as temporary classrooms by Globe and Phoenix Primary School fell resulting in the injury of three learners. The learners were taken to a nearby clinic for treatment,” said the Local Government Ministry.

As for Nkayi on 12 October 2023, a strong whirlwind blew off roofsheets from two classrooms.

“Fortunately, this incident happened during lunch hour and no one was hurt. This incident has affected the learning process as the district is currently experiencing rains. The district civil protection committee is yet to do an assessment of the damage,” said the Government.

The Local Government Ministry said in Insiza district has three schools that have been affected by the wind and current storm.

Among the affected schools is Gumbalo Primary School in ward 9 where the whirlwind damaged two classroom blocks on October 6 the roof of one block being blown off by the strong winds causing serious damage to the walls. The school is in Insiza South with a total enrolment of 16 learners from ECD A to Grade 5 and two staff members.

At Avoca Secondary School in ward 8 on Friday, the storm damaged roofs on classrooms and teachers’ cottages while at Msithi primary school in ward 2 two classroom roofs were blown away by the strong violent winds.

“No one was injured as learners had been dismissed. The classrooms are in no condition to be used by learners, hence the need for urgent repairing of the classroom blocks. It is for the second time the block has been damaged by strong winds,” said the Ministry.

In Chirumanzu district on Saturday, one classroom block had its roof blown off by wind and during the rapid assessment by the district civil protection committee, it was observed that galvanised IBR roofing sheets were blown off and purloins were loosened from the trusses.

In Lupane district on Monday one person was injured after a roof was blown off by strong winds in Shabula Village, Ward 15 and an injured person was rushed to St Luke’s Hospital and reportedly needed stitches on the forehead.

On the same date in Bulawayo nine houses at Thokozani Flats had their roofs blown off by the strong winds and rains.

Harare City Council spokesperson Stanely Gama yesterday said the council was working on curbing flooding in the city.

“We have a programme to clear drains which we started from downtown area and anticipating to finish it off by end of November. Some of the challenges encountered by our teams are litter which is being thrown in drains which we would have cleaned. So we are now compelling shops to put bins outside their premises,” he said.

Mr Gama said the local authority which has a plan to rollout bins citywide is also giving attention to trees.

“Today from 5am our teams were clearing trees blocking roads expect for a few which were still partially blocking by end of day which would be cleared tomorrow.

“Branches hanging by the roadside will also be cut and some old trees to avoid loss of lives, injuries and damage to property as well as livelihoods. In this rainy season people also need to be extra careful not to park underneath trees,” he said.

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