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200 kids escape death

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TWO HUNDRED primary schoolchildren escaped unhurt when a fire gutted a Victoria Falls lodge they were booked in for a school trip on Wednesday night.

NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
OWN CORRESPONDENT

Tatenda Safari Lodge in the tourism hub of the Middle Zambezi in the resort town is owned by Rangarirai Tatenda Gunda (61), the widow of late One Brigade commander Brigadier-General Paul Armstrong Gunda.

The general, who was declared a national hero and buried at the National Heroes’ Acre, died in a mysterious railroad crash inside the fence of Watershed College in Marondera on June 20 2007.

The official explanation was that Gunda’s vehicle rammed into a train along the Mutare-Harare rail track at around 5am while going to fetch his son for the weekend.

However, his widow Rangarirai has continuously disputed the official report saying her late husband’s crash site lacked the hallmarks of a railroad crash, feeding suspicions that he was assassinated before his car was planted at the railroad crossing a few dozen metres away from his son’s school.

Gunda yesterday told Southern Eye that she was still puzzled by the fire when she and her workers cleared the charred remains of furniture and other goods destroyed by the inferno.

“Unfortunately, I don’t even know what exactly happened as I was helping with the cooking in the kitchen for the schoolchildren who were booked here. What I know is I was called and told that my house and reception were on fire,” said Gunda.

“I quickly rushed there and the whole building was engulfed in flames. We tried to put out the fire by pouring water, but the taps were dry. We later had guys from the police and fire brigade who helped us put out the fire. The fire brigade team did quite a number of trips to fetch water,” she said.

She said the fire, which raged for more than four hours, was eventually extinguished just after midnight.

Gunda said there had been no one at the reception and her house which is attached to the reception when the fire broke out, so it was difficult for her to even speculate what could have been the cause.

“It could have been an electrical fault; who knows, because I don’t have any suspects. The kids were booked at the back lodge and were not affected; they are all quite safe,” she said.

Gunda said she had lost a lot of property to the inferno, but was determined to rebuild her lodge in a few days’ time.

“I lost quite a lot of property like laptops, generators, refrigerators, ice-makers and my entire late husband’s photos, certificates, clothing, groceries and bedding for the lodge.

“What hurt me the most was that one of the rooms was more like a museum where I had kept pictures of my late husband, in his memory. I know out there some people will be wishing that I don’t recover again, but give me three to four days, everything will be under repair. I have many clients that are coming in the next few weeks and all will be put in place very soon,” she said.

The lodge was established in 1993 as a small establishment and grew to become a self-sustaining project with 50 rooms that can accommodate more than 200 guests.

It offers river cruise, fishing, game drives, horse riding, helicopter flights over the Victoria Falls, canoeing and rafting.

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