South African police sniffer dogs have been sent to parts of Zimbabwe hit by Cyclone Idai to help look for those who are missing and presumed dead.
Survivors of the storm hope to find the bodies of their loved ones and give them a proper burial.
To conduct the search, a South African police officer guides his sniffer dog in Ngangu, one of the areas hardest hit by Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani district, Zimbabwe.
The area has been engulfed by a putrid smell that locals believe could be decomposing bodies trapped under the earth.
Wonder Tom’s grandmother was lost when Cyclone Idai hit the area March 16.
Tom, 35, hopes the sniffer dogs will help them find the 82-year-old’s body so they can give her a proper burial.
“They will help us to discover our relatives,” Tom said. “Because I think here, in our country, we don’t have the machines to see that under this ground there is somebody who is trapped there. So, it will relieve all of us to retrieve our relatives’ bodies and bury them nicely, although they are already bad.”
Almost all of the 330 people missing from when the cyclone hit Zimbabwe are from Chimanimani district.
Ian Hoy is with the South African police sniffer dog team. He says they will be in Chimanimani for five days to search an area with a radius of about 60 to 80 kilometers.
“The devastation here, to be honest, is very bad,” Hoy said. “Even if we were here for three, four, five weeks it wouldn’t be enough. But we here for now, we doing what we can, and we gonna accomplish what we can with the time available to us.”
On the first day of searching, the South African sniffer dogs and Zimbabwe security officials say they have made progress. Zimbabwe army troops are expected to start digging for the bodies in areas identified by the dogs.
Hope only for remains
The assistant commissioner of Zimbabwe’s police Ndofandaedza Jaboon is leading the recovery.
“So far so good, we have identified quite a number of places and we will excavate to try retrieve the bodies. We will dig and try find out if we can retrieve bodies underneath,” Jaboon said.
Since the cyclone unleashed muddy floodwaters into villages, locals have used shovels, picks and even forks to dig for their relatives’ bodies.
While there are no hopes here for survivors, the South African sniffer dogs will at least narrow the search zone for what remains can be found.