Three Bulilima District pupils have died following a deadly hailstorm that hit the area on Monday. Many more pupils were stranded and their families searched for them well into the night, leading to their rescue after large hailstones pounded several villages.

Two Early Childhood Development pupils from Sevako Primary School, both girls aged six years, died in the violent weather while a third, a boy from Ndolwane Primary School whose age and grade could not be ascertained, drowned yesterday.

The Bulilima Civil Protection Committee chairperson who is also the District Administrator for Bulilima, Ethel Moyo, said the ECD pupils died on their way home from school while the other pupil drowned in a flooded pit latrine at the school.

The hailstorm which hit the area on Monday afternoon also destroyed homes, shops and schools in different parts of the district. "I'm coming from Ndolwane area where I left villagers trying to retrieve the body of the pupil who drowned in a school toilet pit. The area received heavy rains and the toilets were flooded. This pupil couldn't make out where the pit was and he fell inside," said Moyo.

"There's another incident involving two ECD pupils from Dombolefu area who were killed by the hailstorm while they were going home."

The councillor for Dombolefu Ward, Morgen Ndebele, said the two pupils who are from Village 24 knocked off from school when the rains were starting at around 3PM. He said the weather condition worsened, trapping some children before they reached home.

He said some of the pupils were left stranded in the bushes and they were only rescued by villagers in the middle of the night.

"Two children from my area, girls both aged six-years-old, were killed by a hailstorm which struck the area on Tuesday. The rains started in the afternoon and later worsened amid a hailstorm which was raining large hail stones," he said.

"A lot of children were stranded in the bushes and villagers had to conduct a search for them at night. Unfortunately two children didn't survive the harsh storm and they were found dead in the bushes. It's fortunate that most survived because that storm was severe."

Ndebele said in his ward, a homestead belonging to Thomas Nkomo of Village 29 was reduced to ashes after it was struck by lightning during the storm.

He said Nkomo and his family fled from the homestead during the storm.

A villager from the area Mtshiyeni Nleya, who has a child who was trapped in the bushes during the hailstorm, said the once-in-a-lifetime incident had left a number of pupils and parents terrified. "I can't recall experiencing such a terrifying ordeal and I can't even imagine what the children were going through. Some of the pupils had reached their homes but those walking long distances such as my child were still on the way," he said.

"I was troubled throughout the storm for the safety of my child and when the rains stopped we decided to search for them. Some children were hiding under trees. Some were lying in pools of water, it was a terrible sight. It's unfortunate that our neighbours lost their children in the process."

Benjamin Nleya, the councillor for Dombodema Ward, one of the affected areas in the district said several homesteads and a primary school in his area had been severely damaged. chronicle