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Tornado flattens Free State homes

Hundreds of Free State families have been left homeless, 42 people injured and a nine-year-old boy is dead after a tornado ripped through the north-eastern sections of the country on Sunday.

The storm – attributed to an extreme thunderstorm system – tore through the Free State town of Ficksburg on Sunday afternoon.

Photo: Volksblad/Charles von Maltitz. Credit: Photo: Charles von Maltitz

In Springs, Gauteng, a similar wind system struck, terrifying residents, who inundated the South African Weather Service with alerts about the storm.

By late on Sunday night the South African Weather Service website was still carrying storm warning “flashes” of severe thunderstorms in the North West Province, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the north-eastern sections of the Free State.

Within hours of the storm flattening Ficksburg’s Meqheleng informal settlement, the town’s disaster relief plan had been activated, with emergency personnel responding from across the province.

Netcare 911’s Chris Botha said the area looked like a disaster zone with “houses flattened as far as one could see”.

“From reports we are receiving from our personnel on the ground it is a total disaster. Everywhere one looks there is debris.

“We have assisted with the transport of 42 patients who were injured in the strong winds, which killed a nine-year-old boy. Two residents were seriously hurt.”

Botha said the boy died of severe trauma to his internal organs and multiple injuries caused by flying debris. The injured, who had been struck by debris and left with severe lacerations and broken bones, were taken to several local hospitals.

“A massive overnight search and rescue operation was launched to find people who have been reported missing. Also, to look for residents who have been injured and may be trapped under the wreckage of their homes.

“The situation on the ground is really bad and is not being helped by the fact that the storm hit late in the day, which makes searching for people difficult.

“Reports we have received estimate that at least 1 000 homes have been destroyed.”

Botha said that apart from sending paramedics from Ficksburg to the Meqheleng informal settlement, staff had been dispatched from the base in Bethlehem.

They had been joined by medical teams from other parts of the Free State.

South African Weather Service forecaster Bransby Bulo said storm warnings had been issued on a number of radio and TV stations early on Sunday.

“Reports indicate that winds, which were part of a larger storm system, were in excess of 70km/h, which are very, very strong and associated with extremely severe thunderstorm systems.

“Reports to our offices indicate that tornadoes struck in the Ficksburg area and in Springs.

“While these types of windy conditions are not unusual for this time of year, tornadoes are. These systems are likely to subside by late tomorrow, but rain will continue to fall in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.”

Bulo said when such warnings were issued, people should stay indoors to avoid being injured by flying debris.

Meanwhile 113 people were injured when a tornado hit Duduza outside Nigel, in Gauteng, on Sunday according to figures released on Monday morning.

"One hundred and eight people sustained minor injuries ranging from multiple scratches to bruises to even some fractures, and then five people, which is a total of 113, sustained more serious injuries," ER24 spokesman Andre Visser told SABC radio news.

Those who were displaced during the storm were being temporarily accommodated at the Duduza multi-purpose centre.

Gauteng health MEC Ntombi Mekgwe and Ekurhuleni mayor Mondli Gungubele were expected to visit the area on Monday morning. - Pretoria News, Sapa

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