An emergency team was dispatched to an upmarket Hillcrest housing complex after a pipeline burst, spilling 200 000 litres of diesel early on Tuesday.
Residents at Greenvale Village complex, across the road from the Transnet Hillcrest Pump Station in Shongweni Road, were awoken by the smell of diesel at 1.24am as a column of fuel sprayed from the pipeline and rained down on gardens.
At the same time a control room operator noticed a drop in pressure in the pipeline, which moves fuel from Durban to Johannesburg, and shut it down.
Residents had also phoned Transnet to complain.
By the time the pipe was shut, 200 000 litres of diesel had escaped from the underground pipe, leaving its owners with a fuel loss estimated at more than R2.4 million and a clean-up bill likely to run into millions more.
Transnet Pipelines spokeswoman, Saret Knoetze, said they had activated their emergency plan and dispatched their pipeline repair team, environmental teams and a local emergency response team.
“Two hundred thousand litres of diesel spilled from a high pressure 12 inch (30cm) steel pipe. Repairs to the pipeline will commence once it is safe to do so. The rehabilitation of the affected properties has commenced,” she said.
When the Daily News visited before midday, earth-moving equipment was being used to scoop up a red absorbent material.
Clean-up crews had used the special material to soak up the spilt diesel from the sand and grass.
It was scooped up and dumped into 24 Spill Tech skip bins that had been placed at the bottom of the village in a field where horses normally graze.
Knoetze said the exact cause of the spill was still being investigated and they would have a better idea of what had gone wrong once the pipe had been dug up.
“The soil will be rehabilitated. The repair of the pipe will take two days. However the clean-up will take two months.
“We have done an environmental assessment and thus far there is no immediate danger to the surrounding areas,” Knoetze said.
The rehabilitation of the area, she said, could run into millions of rand.
An estimated R2 434 000 worth of diesel had been lost, based on the retail price of R12.17 a litre.
Knoetze said the spill would not affect supply of fuel to Gauteng or elsewhere inland because there was an adequate stockpile and the repairs coincided with a planned shutdown.
“The pipe transports refined fuel only… Gauteng is fully stocked with diesel and unleaded petrol,” she said.
Richard Roache, a resident, said he woke up with a start when he heard a loud bang.
“I peered out the window and saw something like water gushing into the air.
“It was close to my window. We live on a steep incline. The diesel flowed down from my neighbour’s house through both our gardens.
“It flowed down some common land and into a grazing area for horses.
“It missed my pool. The gardens have been trashed,” he said.
Roache said the spill had left a bad smell, but he praised clean-up teams for working hard to put things right.
He was unhappy at the inconvenience it had caused, especially at this time of the year.
Roache said residents of the complex were not told to evacuate, but to stay away from the spill zone.
He said workers had fenced off the area and work was continuing.
“The smell is bad, but, as residents, we just have to carry on and let them do their job,” he said
John Elmer, chairman of the complex homeowners’ association, said the pipeline burst, sending a column of diesel into the air, which rained on the gardens of some of the properties in the village.
“No one was hurt or suffered any complications from the diesel fumes,” he said.
Elmer said the complex had 62 units and the spill had only affected three homes.
He said the horse grazing area and paddocks belonged to a farm nearby. The horses were in their stables at the time and were not affected.
Transnet posted security guards around the spill site to prevent people from entering the potentially hazardous zone.
The Daily News photographer had to seek special permission to photograph the clean-up operation from a safe area.
Several Spill Tech trucks and workers were on site and at the pump station.
eThekwini ward 10 councillor, Rick Crouch, said residents living near the pipeline had in the past complained about the noise it made when fuel flowed through.
“More than a year ago we addressed the issue with Transnet. They took me on an inspection in loco to show me how safe it was to have a pipeline near residential homes. I still had my doubts. Luckily the people who live near the spill were on holiday,” Crouch said.