The coldness of Arusha, with which the residents of this city have been long accustomed at this time of year, was deepened yesterday, as its residents, grief-stricken sympathisers from elsewhere in Tanzania and beyond the borders, coalesced into one huge family of mourners to bid farewell to 32 pupils who perished in a week-end bus accident in Karatu.
Also snatched by death were the lives of two teachers and the driver of the ill-fated bus that plunged into a ravine at Karatu.
Four major roads were closed to normal traffic to pave the way for the caskets bearing the bodies of the deceased to be ferried from Mount Meru Hospital morgue to Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium where an open farewell mass was conducted.
The venue had been jam-packed by 7.00 am and three hours later, there was hardly spare room onto which a late-comer could squeeze oneself, prompting hundreds of people to become outside-venue participants.
Many women along the route wailed wildly and some of them fainted and others plunged themselves onto muddy pools of water along the route.
The last time that Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium served as a mass funeral venue was in January 2009, for gospel music singer Fanuel Sedekia, who died in Jerusalem in December 2008. He had gone there on a pilgrimage, in the company of a local preacher, Mr Christopher Mwakasege.
In yesterday’s funeral, medical personnel had a hard time coping with scores of people – which some estimates put at over 150 – who collapsed and fainted and crowd control taxed police officers and army personnel. Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Bohra religious leaders graced the open air funeral mass which was attended, by among others, several Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament.
Three of the 32 casualties were buried in Arusha yesterday. The Vice President, Ms Samia Suluhu Hassan, visited and consoled the families of two of them - Adai Lucas Mollel (at Olasiti) and Sabrina Said at Kwa-Mrombo, where the ill-fated Lucky Vincent School is located.
Kwa-Mrombo was one of the most affected parts of the city, as most of the children who died in the accident hailed from there.
Meanwhile, authorities dispelled rumours that, one of the three injured pupils admitted at Mount Meru Hospital, Doreen Mshana aged 13, from Olasiti, had died.
Doreen, and another girl, Sadia Ismail Awadh (11) from Kwa-Mrombo and a boy, Wilson Geoffrey Tarimo (11) also from Kwa-Mrombo are the three survivors. The Doctor in-charge, Dr Timothy Wonanji, said the girl, now under the Intensive Care Unit, was improving.
Vice President, Mama Samia Suluhu Hassan together with the Minister of Education, Science Technology and Vocational Training, Prof Joyce Ndalichako visited the three pupils at the hospital on Monday shortly before the stadium mass.