The prevailing torrential rains devastating the Northern Region on Friday battered Chiweta Escarpments, provoking landslides that blocked the narrow tarmac that winds down the meandering terrain.
Eyewitnesses said the road was completely blocked by heaps of mud, rocks and uprooted trees, leaving snaking queues of vehicles on both sides.
The logjam, largely comprising trucks hauling goods between Malawi and Tanzania’s coastal port of Dar es Salam, started moving around 11.30am after the Roads Authority dispatched emergency contractors to clear the mess.
“Presently, the Roads Authority has emergency contractors on standby in all regions. We alerted our contractor in the north, Goka Civil Engineering, and they rushed to Chiweta where they opened one lane and they’re expected to clear the entire road by the end of Friday,” said Portia Kajanga, the Road Authority’s spokesperson.
By 2pm, vehicles were still restricted to one lane on the steep road, travellers said.
The descent from Mchenga to Chiweta Trading Centre has witnessed rock slides, landslides and falling trees for the past weeks, testifying to the torrential rains which have been hammering northern areas for the past 13 days and have so far claimed six lives in Mzuzu and left nearly 13 000 people destitute.
The Chiweta section of the M1 road has massive potholes and jagged edge although President Peter Mutharika last year promised to start rehabilitating the stretch.
According to Kajanga, the Roads Authority has acquired funds from the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) to do designs for the M1 stretch from Chiweta Trading Centre in Rumphi East to Kacheche Turn Off in Mzimba North.
She explained: “This is a long-term project. We have awarded a contract to CPG (Civil & Planning Group) Consulting Engineers of Zimbabwe to do a feasibility study, detailed engineering designs and preparation of tender documents of the 70km Kacheche-Chiweta road section of the M1. It is a six month contract from February to August 2016.”
The consultant, according to Kajanga, would also assist the RA with the selection of a contractor for the re-construction works. The designs are being funded by the World Bank through Comesa.
The European Investment Bank has expressed interest to fund the project, with 50 percent of the cost being a grant and the other half a loan to Malawi government, Kajanga said.