KwaZulu-Natal has called for the declaration of a state of disaster following the death of at least 59 people to storms and floods.
At least 45 people have died in eThekwini and 14 others in the iLembe District, north of Durban, according to the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Co-operative Governance. It is unclear how many people are still missing after heavy rains washed away cars and pedestrians crossing bridges in low-lying areas.
In a statement on Tuesday, the provincial government has confirmed that President Cyril Ramaphosa is also expected to visit the province on Wednesday to receive an update on the damages.
President Ramaphosa will travel to flood-affected areas to “offer assistance to affected communities and assess the government and civil society’s response to this critical situation,” reads a statement from the Presidency.
“This is a tragic toll of the force of nature and this situation calls for an effective response by government in partnership with communities.
“This situation calls on us to come together as a nation and offer assistance to those who desperately need our care and support,” says President Ramaphosa.
‘Communities to exercise caution’
The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has urged communities in flood-affected areas to exercise caution, as torrential rains have left a trail of destruction in different areas across the country.
KwaZulu-Natal is the worst affected with overflowing rivers, submerged vehicles, and destroyed properties. Minister Dlamini-Zuma has expressed her deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives as a result of the recent rains.
More than 140 schools have been impacted by flooding incidents.
To monitor the situation and provide assistance, the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) is in contact with provincial and local disaster management centres on the ground. Provincial and local disaster management teams are on high alert across the country, assisting flood-affected communities.
Electricity and water supply affected
eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda says several power stations have also been affected by the storms, leaving many communities without water and electricity. Kaunda said they could not yet quantify the extent of the damage.
“Most of the city’s power stations, electricity power stations have been flooded and our teams were unable to assess them last night but our teams started working on these facilities in the early hours of this morning. We would like to urge our communities to bear with us while we are working to restore the electricity supply to all residential areas and businesses. There are certain water treatment plants and water mains that have been damaged including those that belong to uMngeni Water, our teams are on the ground to try and return the situation to normal.”
Umgeni Water’s Shami Harichunder is urging residents to use water sparingly after some of their water treatment plants suffered infrastructure damage. Teams are working on the ground to restore power to affected communities.
“The worst of the damage was in the Durban system. Now there are four aqueducts that convey water from Nagle Dam to the Durban heights water treatment plant in the heavy rain and the rock falls, two of these massive pipes broke. There will be insufficient water being transported from Nagle Dam to Durban heights for treatment. This will result in water shortages in many parts of Durban.”
Heavy rains leave a trail of destruction:
Trapped teachers and learners
It remains unclear whether the 14 teachers and 35 learners from Tholulwazi Secondary in Emolweni in Pinetown who were trapped inside the school since Monday, have been rescued. South African Democratic Teachers Union provincial spokesperson Nomarashiya Caluza who spoke to SABC NEWS earlier, said the group had to sleep on school premises because they could not get back home due to heavy rains that battered the area.
“The inclement weather that we continue to observe has caused the damage but the sad part of it is the situation at Tholulwazi School at Emolweni where teachers slept at school as they could not cross rivers. SADTU tried to work with the department but there were not enough resources to rescue the teachers. Even now we are disappointed that our teachers are still there and only seven blankets were provided and we are calling anyone who can to assist and we are calling for the support of teachers.”
People displaced in Eastern Cape
Meanwhile, residents in Port St Johns, Eastern Cape, have been evacuated from low-lying areas due to flooding.
Many people have been displaced as a result of the torrential rains.
A town Hall that was prepared to accommodate destitute families is also flooded. Port St Johns mayor Nomvuzo Mlombile-Cingo says the situation is becoming worse in most parts of the town.
Cingo says the O R Tambo Disaster Management, the business sector and other stakeholders have joined hands to provide relief. She says mattresses, blankets and foodstuff have been provided to displaced families.
“There are stones that are falling between town and Mpantu and some trees. But we have a team that is working very hard to make sure that when we hear that there is something that has just happened, it is immediately cleared. So the flooding is affecting the whole of Port St Johns not only the town area but also the surrounding wards. Along Ntafufu, there are stones and soils that have collapsed but we have teams that are attending to that, we want to say we are ready to face the floods.”
The South African Weather Service says heavy rains are expected to continue along the coastal parts of the province in areas such as eThekwini Metro and the Ugu and iLembe districts.
Experts say the current weather patterns being experienced in the province can be attributed to climate change, this as a true picture of the extent of damage caused by heavy rain in KZN is starting to emerge.
Director of the Centre for Water Resources Research at UKZN Prof Jeff Smithers says we are experiencing evidence of climate change.
Prof Smithers leads the National Floods Studies Programme in South Africa:
SABC News journalist Ayanda Mhlongo reports the devastation of the people who are affected by the floods:
Rail operations suspended
Rail operations were also suspended by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in the province. Turning to air, despite minimal damage to some sections of the Durban’s King Shaka International Airport due to flooding, the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) confirmed that flights remain operational.
“Repairs and recovery processes are currently underway to restore the infrastructure. The airport’s management team has activated business continuity plans to sustain airport operations and as a result, we don’t expect flight delays, if any, they will be at an absolute minimum. Passenger and aircraft processing proceeds as normal without compromising the safety of our passengers. We urge all passengers and airport users to exercise extra caution when making their way to the airport as major routes in Durban are flooded,” says ACSA spokesperson, Gopolang Peme.
The public has been urged to contact their municipal disaster management centres, their nearest police stations, or the national emergency numbers – 112; 10177; or 107– for help.