Durban - Patients had to be evacuated from the Emmaus Hospital, near Bergville, after its roof was ripped off and the building almost completely destroyed by violent storms which hit the province on Monday night.
The hospital has been shut and about 150 patients had to be sent to Estcourt, Grey’s and Ladysmith provincial hospitals.
In uPhongolo a child was killed by lightning and scores of people were left injured and homeless.
According to preliminary reports by the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), the Midlands and northern KwaZulu-Natal towns of Bergville and uPhongolo were the hardest hit.
Sixteen-year-old Bongeka Ntshangase, a Grade 10 pupil, was killed after being struck by lightning at the family home in Ncotsheni.
Her aunt, Nozipho Nxumalo said: “There is this thing that they do of beating on corrugated iron with a stick whenever a storm approaches. It is believed that this chases the storm away.
“He and the other kids were in the yard doing that when lightning struck him,” said Nxumalo.
She said other children who were also hitting on the sheet of corrugated iron were struck, but were not injured as they were far from Bongeka.
The teen’s grandmother, Ngenangani Zwane, who at the time was fetching water from a tap in the yard, was also struck by lightning, but she also survived.
“I was called from work at about 3pm on Monday and I rushed home. When I arrived Bongeka was dead and my mother (Bongeka’s grandmother) was rushed to hospital, My child, Lwandiso, who was there was also struck by lightning but was not injured. My mother was (discharged) this morning although she is still complaining of pain and of being nauseous.”
Nxumalo said Bongeka’s cousins who witnessed the incident were traumatised. “They couldn’t even sleep or eat last night. All of us could not sleep. They were forced to go to school today because they are writing an exam.”
Cogta spokesman, Lennox Mabaso, said there were also torrential downpours at about 5pm.
Disaster management teams were sent to the areas last night.
“In Ukhahlamba (Bergville), the storm devastated Emmaus Hospital,” said Mabaso.
“It is believed that scores of houses were also damaged.”
“Our teams are providing first-line support and assisting a number of injured people.”
Mabaso said they would also supply lightning conductors to the family of the victim as well as neighbouring residents.
“We have a programme rolling out conductors to houses but have been restricted by resources. But when incidents like this happen we ensure the families get conductors as it’s a terrible memory every time it rains.”
Cogta MEC Nomusa Dube said they would be assessing the damage and helping the community.
A joint operations committee, comprising officials from the provincial government and the affected municipalities, has been established to provide emergency assistance. MECs responsible for disaster management were expected to visit Bergville today to conduct a detailed assessment of the damage.
Mabaso said reports received indicated there had been damage to areas in the Jozini Municipality but he did not have details at this stage.
Stacy Colborne, forecaster with the South African Weather Bureau, said the thunderstorms, which affected northern KwaZulu-Natal as well as Swaziland and parts of Mpumalanga, were caused by an upper air trough on the western part of the country which coincided with a surface trough coming from the tropics across the centre of the country.
“These two phenomena caused the thunderstorm activity,” she said. Wind speeds in Pongola were between 12 and 32 knots, with speeds peaking at 36 knots in Bergville.
Meanwhile, 32 people have died owing to heavy rain and flooding in five provinces in the past two weeks.
These included 25 drownings: 12 in Mpumalanga, five in North West, four in Limpopo, three in Gauteng and one in KZN.
Six people died when they were struck by lightning and another died when a wall collapsed in KZN.
“In the past two weeks, large parts of South Africa have been subject to heavy rainfall, particularly the provinces of North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal,” Cogta Deputy Minister Andries Nel said.
“A number of people have been rescued from the roofs of their vehicles and several were trapped in their homes,” said Nel.
The municipalities most affected by the rainy weather included Madibeng in North West, Lephalale in Limpopo and Nkomazi in Mpumalanga. “There has been considerable damage to roads and bridges, houses, water pumps, pipes and other infrastructure.”
Nel said communities in certain areas were unable to access workplaces, health services, shelter and schools.
The Waterberg District Municipality in Limpopo had indicated its intention to declare a state of disaster.
“Municipalities or provinces that want to declare a disaster may qualify for national financial support,” said Nel.
About 3 000 people were still displaced in Limpopo’s Lephalale Municipality owing to high water levels, while water had subsided in other provinces, and affected people had returned home. The National Disaster Management Centre had assisted with search-and-rescue and humanitarian relief in affected areas.