George Maponga Masvingo Bureau
The low-level Chilonga Bridge across the Runde River has been temporarily closed following two more drownings as vehicles try to cross the submerged bridge.
Chilonga Bridge connects the district’s commercial capital of Chiredzi and southern Chiredzi, which covers the Chikombedzi hinterland.
The low-level bridge is the shortest route linking Chiredzi Town and Chikombedzi, but when Runde River is in flood, the bridge is submerged forcing motorists to wait until the river subsides.
Some take a gamble by trying to cross and others use home-made canoes that are also at risk of capsizing in the crocodile -infested river.
Vehicular traffic has now been banned from using Chilonga Bridge following last Saturday’s drowning of two people swept off the bridge after the driver lost control while trying to cross.
The vehicle disappeared under water and it was only retrieved yesterday afternoon together with the bodies of the two people, both thought to be employees of NetOne.
Police, with the assistance of Chilonga villagers and others recovered the bodies and took them to Chiredzi Hospital mortuary.
Masvingo provincial police spokesperson Inspector Kudakwashe Dhewa confirmed the recovery of the bodies, while Chiredzi District Civil Protection Unit chair and district development coordinator Mr Lovemore Chisema yesterday said the bridge will remain closed until it is safe to use it.
“We have decided to temporarily close Chilonga Bridge following a spate of drownings caused by vehicles that either fall into the river after drivers lose control while trying to negotiate the low-lying submerged structure or are swept away by floods,” said Mr Chisema.
“The bridge will only be reopened once it is deemed safe to cross after water levels go down.
“Mupapa Bridge is the current viable alternative for those travelling from either Chiredzi to Chikombedzi or vice versa. It’s a longer, but safe route.”
The Government recently announced that it had allocated $3,6 billion for building a modern bridge across Runde River at Chilonga.
Tendering for the project has already begun, with local and international contractors free to bid.
Construction of the bridge is technically challenging because of the weak soils on the banks of Runde River at Chilonga.
Besides Mupapa Bridge near Triangle, the other alternative to link Chiredzi Town and Chikombedzi would be through Rutenga Growth Point, but it is far.
In the past, travellers used to rely on the Chipinda Pools Bridge in Gonarezhou National Park, but was damaged by Cyclone Eline in 2000.
This year alone, more than eight people have drowned in Runde River after vehicles carrying them were swept away by floods.
Low level bridges opened up Zimbabwean roads, but cannot be used when rivers flow over them. Even quite shallow water in a fast flowing river can exert a lot of pressure. When such bridges are flooded people either have to sit and wait, and in older times groups used to camp near rivers waiting for the bridge to clear, or reverse course and find an alternative route.