Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
TWO bodies were yesterday retrieved from a vehicle that was swept away when the driver attempted to cross a flooded Gweru River just after Ascot suburb in Gweru on Sunday.
The two are part of six people who were feared dead after an Isuzu double cab (not Toyota Hilux twin cab as earlier reported) was swept away at the flooded Gweru River Bridge.
The search for four other passengers is still underway.
The back window of the vehicle had been broken raising speculation that the missing four either swam to safety or drowned.
The Police Sub Aqua Unit was summoned to dive deep into the river to search for the missing people while the two bodies were ferried to Gweru Provincial Hospital awaiting post-mortem.
The driver of the vehicle was a council employee from the engineering department who reportedly engaged in artisanal mining when not on duty.
Rescue workers were visibly too shocked to identify their fellow employee.
The second passenger whose body was retrieved from the back seat could not be identified yesterday.
The vehicle was towing a mining compressor when the incident occurred along Matobo Road at around 6AM. It had four males including the driver and two females on board.
On Sunday, a rescue team from the local authority abandoned the search for the vehicle and the passengers as the water levels were too high.
Fortunately, it didn’t rain during the night and the water levels subsided.
Police, rescue workers from the Gweru City Council Fire Brigade and a private company were at the scene from around 9am and the vehicle could be seen lying on its side on the left side of the river just after the bridge.
Chief fire officer Mr Lyndon Hove led the team in retrieving the bodies, after a two-hour struggle.
A recovery lorry from a local company assisted in pulling the vehicle to the river bank.
Hundreds of residents from nearby suburbs such as Ascot thronged the bridge to witness the rescue operation and they didn’t even consider social distancing or masking in the face of Covid-19.
Gweru mayor Councillor Josiah Makombe confirmed that the driver was a council employee.
“Yes, I can confirm that one is a council employee, a plumber in our engineering department. We are all shocked at this sad development. The other body hasn’t been identified,” he said.
Said Midlands provincial police spokesperson Inspector Emmanuel Mahoko said: “I can confirm that two bodies from a vehicle that was swept away yesterday at Gweru River by floods have been retrieved from the vehicle.”
Insp Mahoko said working from information they have from witnesses; they will continue looking for the remaining four people.
“Rescue operations are currently being carried out and I would like to appeal to the public to exercise extreme caution and not try to attempt to cross flooded rivers as this could result in loss of lives,” he said.
Head of the Gweru District Civil Protection Unit, who is also Gweru District Development Co-ordinator Mr Jorum Chimedza, said efforts were ongoing to establish the whereabouts of the other four passengers believed to have been in the vehicle at the time of the accident.
Mr Chimedza said the tragedy represented a difficult moment for the Gweru community.
“We understand that six people were in the vehicle when the incident took place. We are still waiting for the sub-aqua unit to come and search for the other people believed to have been in the vehicle at the time of the incident.
They have been attending to similar incidents that happened along Runde River but we believe today they will show up and offer assistance,” he said.
Heavy rains have been pounding the country recently resulting in most rivers getting flooded amid calls for motorists to exercise extreme caution when faced with flooded rivers.