Deadly floods hit southern Zimbabwe, destroying many homes

TSHOLOTSHO, Zimbabwe (AP) " From kitchen items to livestock and even her house, Assa Mkwananzi says she has "lost it all" to floods that have hit southern Zimbabwe.

"We lost all our blankets, pots and cooking utensils, our goats and chickens as well because of the heavy rains," Mkwananzi told The Associated Press in the southern district of Tsholotsho, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Bulawayo.

Since December, floods have killed 246 people, injured 128 and left nearly 2,000 homeless, Saviour Kasukuwere, Zimbabwe's minister of local government, said last week. Those who have survived the floods say they have lost their possessions.

"The only thing we managed to save is that suitcase with a few clothes," said Joice Ncube, another villager.

Like Mkwananzi, she is now housed at a camp where survivors are crammed in tents and plastic shelters and survive on charity.

"We have between 850 to 900 people here. They were airlifted by helicopters after being marooned," said, Sibongile Nyoni, an official with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development stationed at the camp.

For weeks heavy rains have been pouring in Zimbabwe, especially southern parts of the country, ending a years' long drought.

This southern African country last week appealed to international donors for $100 million to help those affected by the floods, which have washed away bridges and roads and cut off some communities. President Robert Mugabe, currently in Singapore for medical treatment, declared the floods to be a national disaster.

Just last year, a regional drought largely induced by the El Nino weather phenomenon killed livestock and forced people to forage for food in forests and seek drinking water from parched river beds in many parts of Zimbabwe.

Desperate for rainfall, some people revived a long-abandoned tradition, dating to pre-colonial times, of rain-making ceremonies. In parts of Zimbabwe, traditional leaders and spirit mediums, with the support of the government, led ceremonies atop mountains and other sacred places to appeal to ancestral spirits for rain. Others who no longer believe in traditional customs held Christian prayers.

The drought has ended and now people are suffering from the downpour. Some people in the rural areas of Matabeleland North province are unable to reach the safety of clinics and schools. Dams have overflowed, raising concerns about communities living downstream.

Five bridges on major highways have been swept away nationwide, Transport Minister Joram Gumbo said.

In Tsholotsho, homes, mainly grass-thatched huts, have crumbled. Debious Sibanda, 20, is one of the few villagers who still returns to his family's home in Mbanyana village "to check out if everything is still OK."

Women balancing bags on their heads trudge through the mud carrying food for those still in the village taking care of remaining livestock. The rest of the villagers are at the camp, on the lookout for a sign of the arrival of food donors.

Zimbabwe's cash-strapped government is already struggling to meet routine commitments such as the payment of state workers' salaries. Thousands of nurses in state hospitals went on strike last week over a lack of year-end bonus payments, straining an already dire situation at the poorly resourced hospitals. State hospital doctors have been on strike since Feb. 15, forcing the government to send in army and police doctors to care for patients.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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