Riches among Cyclone Idai's wreckage

Villagers pick up cash carried away by the floods of Idai

19 May 2019 - 00:00 By JAMES THOMPSON

Villagers in the Chimanimani area of Kopa in Zimbabwe are raking in cash and valuables by scavenging through the debris left by the devastating Cyclone Idai.
The "wardrobe savings" washed up along the cyclone-battered shores consist mostly of US dollars, rands and the new Zimbabwe currency, RTGS. Some villagers found wads of cash in bags and others picked up single notes.
A local councillor, Alfred Ndima, said it was not surprising that the money had been found because the area was dominated by the stores and homes of well-to-do people.
About 200 people were swept away when the Nyahode River flooded at the confluence with the Rusitu River, destroying an entire community in Kopa. In the rest of Zimbabwe, an estimated 100 people died and 250,000 were affected by the cyclone.
"The area near the river was occupied by businesses. Also, the people who had houses in the area that was buried under the huge boulders had money and some owned businesses. So it was not surprising to hear that people are finding money," said Ndima.
He said many people keep money at home because it is convenient.
"There are often no banks nearby so that explains why people were stumbling upon money after the cyclone. But there are other people, especially the elderly, who don't feel comfortable using banks so they kept their money under pillows or in wardrobes."
Local businessman Peter Mtisi, who watched as his wife and other villagers were swept away by the floods, said he also lost all his money and belongings in the flood.
"I had properties and cars, but in terms of actual money, I lost R120,000, $3,000 and RTGS notes that run into thousands. I guess my loss was someone's gain. I don't even know where to start rebuilding my life.
"I have children at school who are still dependent on me. I am told one of my cars was seen on a tree in Mozambique. One of these days I will go there and see whether it can be retrieved," said Mtisi.
A police officer said many valuables were found in the rubble. People kept what they found.
"We have people that have suddenly acquired unexplained wealth, but you cannot investigate them if there is no proof that the property belongs to someone else," said the officer.
The government of Zimbabwe has estimated the damage caused by the cyclone could reach hundreds of millions of dollars, making it one of the country's most expensive natural disasters. The figure includes direct losses from damaged houses, roads and infrastructure.
An assessment by the Environmental Management Authority said some areas were no longer safe for human habitation.
According to the report, the areas are located either on flood plains, in water ways, or on steep slopes.
"Environmentally speaking, the areas affected were located either in environmentally unsound or unstable settlements," the authority's principal research officer, Ntando Nondo, told the Sunday Times.
In the Ngangu residential area, where high casualties were also recorded, Nondo said environmental threats had been ignored. People had settled there even though it was within the course of a waterway.
Waterways are small seasonal streams that flow strongly, or even come down in flood, when it rains heavily.

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