Tornado rips through Klerksdorp suburbs


By Shaun Smillie

"I suppose this is what the insurance people call an act of God".

This was all Reverend Sipho Ncapayi could utter as he stared at the remains of his church where a 78-year-old woman died and three others were injured.

The woman was killed when a tornado lifted the roof off the Uniting Presbyterian church in Jouberton, near Klerksdorp, and caused masonry to collapse.

The tornado ripped through suburbs around Klerksdorp on Sunday, blowing off roofs, collapsing walls uprooting trees and damaging cars. In some cases roofs were blown 50 metres from houses.

According to Emergency services, about 350 people were injured, most non serious. Seven people were admitted to hospital. The worst-hits areas were the townships of Jouberton, Alabama and the industrial area of Uraniaville. Even the Jouberton police station didn't escape damage - part of the building's roof was blown off.

Wendy Sokupha, a spokesperson for the local council, said that at 6am on Monday about 450 houses had been damaged. "This is likely to go up because people are still reporting damage," she said.

On Monday morning, between 30 000 and 40 000 residents of the affected townships started off their week without water and electricity after the tornado's path of destruction.

The storm destroyed about 200 homes in Jouberton and Alabama.

On Monday, Matlosana municipality spokesperson Sandy Botha said that power lines were lying on the ground and water pipes had been damaged.

"We also have to make sure people can be fed," she said.

Some of the worst damage was to the Uniting Presbyterian church. The woman, who died in the church, had been attending a prayer meeting.

"One of the women in the group came to my house and said hurry, people are dying in there," said Ncapayi.

When he arrived at the church he was shocked to find that masonry and parts of the roof had collapsed, trapping four women in the rubble.

He called the Emergency Services but as he waited for them to arrive, members of the community came and helped free some of the women. "All we could do was place a blanket around them to keep them warm," said Ncapayi.

Three of the women were admitted to hospital. According to Ncapayi they were part of an interdenominational prayer group who met at the church every Sunday.

All that remains of the tragedy was a pink straw hat lying on a piece of masonry and a blanket.

Work was already under way on Monday morning to clear roads and provide water tankers, said Sokupha. "Eskom is also assessing the situation as most of the townships are without power," she said.

Late on Sunday night police set up patrols in both Jouberton and Alabama to prevent looting.

Those effected by the tornado gathered at the Jouberton police station on Sunday night. One of them was Alfred Sithole. Last Wednesday Sithole's two-year-old son died and on Sunday friends and family had gathered at his house when the storm struck.

"The wind blew the roof off my house, I have nowhere to go," he said. Hail stones the size of ping pong balls also smashed the wind screen of his car.

But in most instances injuries were light. "It was mostly lacerations, I also heard of broken bones. Some of the serious lacerations were caused by flying corrugated iron," said Netcare 911 paramedic, Mark Stokoe.

When news of the storm broke paramedics were rushed to Klerksdorp from Johannesburg and the Free State.

On Monday morning many of Jouberton's residents where trying their best to repair the damage left by the tornado.

Betty Mazakaza lost the roof of her two-bedroom house in the storm. The hail and rain also damaged her furniture and belongings. "What am I going to do, who is going to fix the roof?" she said, as she picked through her son's waterlogged school text books.

The Weather Bureau has classified the storm as a mini-tornado.

According to the Weather Bureau 65 percent of South African tornadoes are classified as F0 or F1 (light damage), while more than 90 percent are classified as F0, F1 or F2 (considerable damage) or less. The tornado which occurred at Harrismith on 15 November, 1998, was classified as F2 and the Mount Ayliff tornado which occurred in the Eastern Cape on 18 January, 1999, was classified as F4.

Tornadoes can occur basically anywhere a thunderstorm is possible. From an analysis of the occurrence of South African tornadoes, it became clear that most of them have been observed in Gauteng, the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal (along a line from Pietermaritzburg to Ladysmith) and the northern region of the former Transkei. There seems to be a preference to mountainous areas.

Most tornadoes occur in mid-summer from November to January. Most tornado events (for which the time of the day were available) occurred in the late afternoon or early evening, typically between 4pm and 7pm.


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